First AstraZeneca, then Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech and finally CureVac: since August, the European Commission has signed a cascade of early purchase agreements for Covid-19 vaccines with the largest pharmaceutical companies of the world. On Thursday 19 November, the European Council, which represents the States, must once again take stock of the efforts made to fight the pandemic and continue a reflection already well underway on the vaccination strategy in Europe.
Starting from the postulate that “The permanent solution to [la] crisis will most likely come from the development and deployment of an effective and safe vaccine against the virus ”, the European executive took up the issue and defined, from mid-June, the strategy for ordering vaccines for the whole of the Union, in order to benefit as soon as possible from high-performance and accessible products as soon as possible. large number.
One way to erase the impression of inaction she had left at the start of the pandemic. According to the Commission, “Each month gained in the deployment of a vaccine will save many lives, many jobs and several billion euros”.
Bet on multiple horses
But the challenge is considerable: “It usually takes more than ten years to develop a vaccine”, recalls doctor Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, MEP Renew Europe. However, faced with Covid-19, there is an emergency. The Commission was therefore quick to approach all those who are likely to find the formula for this long-awaited Grail. It is a question of betting on several horses, but not just any: the Commission has invested in a portfolio of companies covering different technologies.
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“Some vaccines are made from the killed or attenuated virus, others consist of injecting only part of the virus, either a protein or a fraction of the virus genome”, explains Véronique Trillet-Lenoir. “The European Commission is thus more or less assured of having a vaccine at the end”, believes Isabelle Marchais, who deals with health for the Jacques Delors Institute.
Two billion secure doses
In total, it is almost two billion doses that the Commission secured with pharmaceutical companies (225 million doses with the German CureVac + possibly 180 million; 200 million with the German-American Pfizer-BioNTech + 100 million; 200 million; 200 million million with the American Johnson & Johnson + 200 million; up to 300 million with the Franco-British Sanofi-GSK; 300 million with the British-Swedish AstraZeneca + 100 million).
With the American Moderna, talks are continuing and a contract should be signed shortly. At its head, the French Stéphane Bancel warned the Europeans that the extension of the negotiations risked slowing down deliveries, other countries having priority because they have signed for months.
But concerning the criteria for selecting companies, the price of this multitude of doses or the location of production sites, the Commission remains very discreet, citing business secrecy.. “In addition to taking financial risk, one wonders what will happen in the event of legal proceedings against possible long-term side effects, whether proven or not”, Isabelle Marchais advances, while Véronique Trillet-Lenoir wonders about the intellectual property of these new substances.
Serving the general European interest
At the end of October, at the end of the last European Council to date, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised that “The Member States will all receive vaccines at the same time and under the same conditions, according to the size of their population in relation to the total population of the Union”.
“It is probably the easiest solution from a logistical and political point of view”, believes Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, who notes however that “The needs are certainly greater in the countries where the virus circulates the most, as in France or in Spain, than in Finland for example”. Each state will have to define its “Vaccination strategy”, to know who to vaccinate first (health workers, over 60s, people with chronic diseases, etc.).
“The stakes and the sums on the table are enormous, and in the field of vaccination, there is always the risk of making investments at a loss. This is the price to pay for having a vaccine, concludes Isabelle Marchais. The Commission has decided to serve the general European interest by going to industry: this time, we cannot blame Europe for its inaction ”.