Ursula von der Leyen warns against COVID-19 'vaccine nationalism' in quest for immunisation

Jill Petzinger
·Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

As the world’s leading biotech and pharmaceutical companies begin announcing early, positive results from their vaccine trials, the pressure is on governments not only to secure supplies, but to decide if they will focus purely on their own citizens’ wellbeing, or take a more inclusive, global approach.

Writing in The Economist’s “The World in 2021” special, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen urges the world to avoid “vaccine nationalism… which can only slow down the global fight against the virus.”

“Some countries see the quest for a vaccine as a race among global powers, reminiscent of the space race of the 1960s. This is an illusion. The only race is against the virus and against time,” von der Leyen writes.

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It is not important what country ends up with the first approved vaccine, what matters is that the world has a safe vaccine and that the most vulnerable receive it first, she says.

“Let us join forces for our common good,” von der Leyen writes. “In 2021 will humanity finally play as a team? I do not know — but I do know where Europe will stand.”

Von der Leyen points out that from the moment the pandemic arrived in the EU, the commission worked with the WHO and other global bodies to launch the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator programme.

Its COVAX vaccines pillar brings together 170 countries, plus NGOs and companies to create the largest global portfolio of vaccine candidates in the world, and ensure that as many of them as possible reach first trials, and then the market.

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“This is how I see the European Union’s mission in today’s world. We have a unique asset—our convening power,” said von der Leyen.

The Commission has worked with six pharmaceutical groups to buy potential vaccines for EU countries, and is also in negotiation to reserve and finance doses for low-income countries through COVAX. “For instance, when we signed advance-purchase agreements with Sanofi and GSK, we agreed they would reserve a significant portion of their vaccine supply for COVAX,” she said.

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The European Commission announced last week that it had secured 300 million doses of the BioNTech/ Pfizer vaccine, which, according to preliminary data from its Phase 3 trials is over 90% efficient at preventing COVID-19 infection.

The EU has also signed vaccine purchase agreements with AstraZeneca (AZN.L), J&J (JNJ) subsidiary Janssen, and German biotech CureVac (CVAC). It is also in talks with Moderna (MRNA).

On Monday (16 November), US-based Moderna said its large scale trial revealed its vaccine candidate to be nearly 95% effective.

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