EU considering sharing left over Covid vaccines with poorer countries

Bloc has already secured nearly 2.3 billion jabs

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 19 January 2021 18:42
Unfair vaccine distribution risks ‘catastrophic moral failure’, says WHO boss

The European Union wants to share surplus Covid-19 vaccines with poorer neighbouring states and Africa, the bloc’s health chief has said.

"We are working with member states to propose a European mechanism to share vaccines beyond our borders," health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told EU politicians on Tuesday.

The EU, which has a population of 450 million, has already secured nearly 2.3 billion Covid-19 vaccines and candidates from six companies, although most of them are still awaiting regulatory approval.

Ms Kyriakides stressed the mechanism would get vaccines to poorer countries "before COVAX is fully operational", referring to the global scheme co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) set up last summer to ensure a fair distribution of Covid-19 shots across the world.

While COVAX is already operational, it has so far struggled to secure vaccines. It announced in December deals for nearly 2 billion doses, but the largest part of these shots has been pledged by vaccine makers under non-binding accords because COVAX is currently short of money to book them in advance.

"Firms will not give you doses if you don't pay in advance," a senior EU vaccine negotiator told Reuters, noting that the EU initiative was the result of COVAX having fallen short of expectations.

Internal documents seen by the news agency in December showed that COVAX co-leaders saw high risks of failure for the mechanism because of insufficient funds and complex contractual arrangements.

It comes after the WHO warned the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” over the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

The head of the organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the prospects for distributing the various jabs fairly were at serious risk.

"Not only does this me-first approach leave the world's poorest and most vulnerable at risk, it is also self-defeating," Dr Tedros said at the opening of the body's annual executive board meeting.

"Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic."

However, the WHO has remained upbeat about COVAX and the possibility of delivering the first vaccines in the next few months.

Ms Kyriakides said the EU vaccine-sharing scheme should prioritise health workers and most vulnerable people in the Western Balkans, North Africa and poorer Sub-Saharan African countries.

The EU official said the EU could give some vaccines to COVAX which would then distribute them to poor countries. It is unclear whether the EU would donate or sell its excess doses.

Additional reporting by Reuters