2021-09-15 11:09:55 E.U. to Create New Agency for Pandemic Response

E.U. to Create New Agency for Pandemic Response

The European Union announced the formation of a new biomedical authority on Wednesday in order to better respond to future pandemics and avoid making the same mistakes that plagued its initial response to the coronavirus.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, also promised to donate an additional 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses to middle- and low-income countries by mid-2022, on top of the 250 million already promised by the end of the year.

Ms. von der Leyen described vaccination disparities as one of the most serious geopolitical issues confronting nations in her annual State of the Union address.

“The scale of injustice and the level of urgency are obvious,” Ms. von der Leyen told lawmakers at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. As of early September, EU member countries had only donated 18 million doses, a fraction of the 200 million promised.

While most developing countries, including those in the European Union’s immediate neighborhood, have yet to administer a single dose of a coronavirus vaccine, more than 70% of adults in the EU have been fully vaccinated. According to Ms. von der Leyen, this places the EU among the world leaders in vaccinations.

“We delivered,” she said, though she admitted that the bloc faced significant domestic disparities, with several Eastern European countries lagging behind.

Ms. von der Leyen’s upbeat tone on Wednesday contrasted sharply with her remarks last year, when new Covid-19 cases were emerging across the EU and coronavirus vaccines were still months away.

“When I stood here in front of you a year ago, I had no idea when or if we would have a safe and effective pandemic vaccine,” she said.

The European Commission, which negotiated vaccines on behalf of member countries, was heavily chastised for the slow start of its vaccination program. The commission signed its first agreement on behalf of member countries months after the United States, causing vaccine deliveries and, later, immunization campaigns to be hampered.

Nonetheless, the rollout has accelerated in recent months, and many European Union countries have now surpassed other wealthy nations such as the United Kingdom, Israel, and the United States in administering booster shots to millions of elderly and vulnerable citizens.

Ms. von der Leyen stated on Wednesday that the new agency, known as the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, or HERA, would aim to “ensure that no virus ever turns a local epidemic into a global pandemic again.”

The new authority will be the European equivalent of the United States’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, a federal health agency focused on vaccine development and pandemic preparedness.

It is expected to receive 50 billion euros (approximately $59 million) in funding by 2027 and will work alongside the European Union’s existing health agencies, the European Center for Disease Control and the European Medicines Agency.

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E.U. to Create New Agency for Pandemic Response