EU secures new Covid-19 vaccine deal

With a number of Covid-19 vaccines approaching authorisation stage, the EU is making sure that member states will have enough doses to go round.

The European Commission has agreed a new deal with the European pharmaceutical company CureVac, which provides for the initial purchase of 225 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine on behalf of all EU member states, plus an option to request up to a further 180 million doses, to be supplied once a vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against the virus.

The contract with CureVac, signed on November 17, enlarges the already broad portfolio of vaccines to be produced in Europe, including deals signed with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica and BioNtech-Pfizer, and successful exploratory talks with Moderna, which this week announced that its vaccine is almost 95 per cent effective.

A diversified portfolio

This diversified vaccines portfolio should ensure Europe is well prepared for vaccination, once the vaccines have been proven to be not just effective but safe. Member states can also decide to donate the vaccine to lower and middle-income countries or to re-direct it to other European countries.

“A few days after our contract with BioNTech and Pfizer, I am delighted to announce a new agreement with a promising European company,” said President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. “The Commission has secured to date at least 1.2 billion doses and fulfils its commitment to ensuring equitable access to safe, effective and affordable vaccines not only for EU citizens but also for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Most of these vaccine candidates are in an advanced phase of clinical trials, hopefully authorisation will confirm these positive results, after which they will be quickly deployed and help us in overcoming the pandemic.”

Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for Health and Food Safety, added: “With growing numbers of Covid-19 patients across the EU, a safe and effective vaccine is more crucial than ever in putting behind us the pandemic. With this fifth vaccine advance purchase agreement, we are further expanding the possibilities that EU citizens and our economies can soon safely return to normality. It is yet another milestone in our EU Vaccines Strategy, and evidence of the benefits of working together in a genuine European Health Union.”

CureVac, a European company based in Germany, signed a 75 million euros loan agreement with the European Investment Bank in July for the development and large-scale production of vaccines, including CureVac’s vaccine candidate against Covid-19. CureVac is pioneering the development of a completely new class of vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA), transported into cells by lipid nanoparticles. The vaccine platform has been developed over the last decade. The basic principle is the use of this molecule as a data carrier for information, with the help of which the body itself can produce its own active substances to combat various diseases.

The Commission has taken a decision to support this vaccine based on a sound scientific assessment, the technology used, the company’s experience in vaccine development and its production capacity to supply the whole of the EU.

Europe-wide strategy

On June 17 the European Commission presented a European strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of effective and safe vaccines against Covid-19. In return for the right to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe, the Commission finances part of the upfront costs faced by vaccines producers in the form of Advance Purchase Agreements. Funding provided is considered as a down-payment on the vaccines that will actually be purchased by member states.

Since the high cost and high failure rate make investing in a Covid-19 vaccine a high-risk decision for vaccine developers, these agreements will therefore allow investments to be made that otherwise might not happen.

Once vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective and have been granted market authorisation by the European Medicines Agency, they need to be quickly distributed and deployed across Europe. On October 15, the Commission set out the key steps that member states need to take to be fully prepared, which includes the development of national vaccination strategies. The Commission is putting in place a common reporting framework and a platform to monitor the effectiveness of national vaccine strategies.

The European Commission is also committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world and not only at home. No one will be safe until everyone is safe. This is why it has raised almost 16 billion euros since May under the Coronavirus Global Response, the global action for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus and for the global recovery and has confirmed its interest to participate in the COVAX Facility for equitable access to affordable Covid-19 vaccines everywhere.

As part of a Team Europe effort, the Commission announced that it was contributing 400 million euros in guarantees to support COVAX and its objectives in the context of the Coronavirus Global Response. On November 12, the European Union announced the contribution of an additional 100 million euros in grant funding to support the COVAX Facility.

Hungary & Sputnik

Not all member states are relying on the EU to supply vaccines, however.

On November 12, Hungary announced it would receive its first small consignment of the Russian vaccine for Covid-19, known as Sputnik, in December.

The country’s minister of foreign affairs and trade, Péter Szijjártó, had already announced his country was in talks with Russia, China and Israel with a view to obtaining early supplies of a vaccine.

The decision to import the Sputnik vaccine could create a new wedge between Hungary and the EU, which has said it will only pre-order vaccines that have been developed and tested in the EU.

Earlier this week, Hungary, along with Poland, vetoed the EU’s new budget and coronavirus recovery plan over proposals to link funding to respect for the rule of law.

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