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Commission lists key steps for effective vaccination strategies and vaccines deployment

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As Europe learns to live with the pandemic, the development and swift global deployment of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 remains an essential element in the eventual solution to the public health crisis. In this context, the Commission is working to ensure that there will be access to safe vaccines across Europe, and encourages a coordinated approach of vaccination strategies for deployment of the vaccines. Today, ahead of the discussion of EU Leaders, the Commission is presenting the key elements to be taken into consideration by Member States for their COVID-19 vaccination strategies in order to prepare the European Union and its citizens for when a safe and effective vaccine is available, as well as priority groups to consider for vaccination first.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “A safe and effective vaccine is our best shot at beating coronavirus and returning to our normal lives. We have been working hard to make agreements with pharmaceutical companies and secure future doses. Now, we must ensure that once a vaccine is found, we are fully prepared to deploy it. With our Vaccination Strategy, we are helping EU countries prepare their vaccination campaigns: who should be vaccinated first, how to have a fair distribution and how to protect the most vulnerable. If we want our vaccination to be successful, we need to prepare now.”  

Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “While the evolution of the pandemic is getting back to March levels, our state of preparedness is not. Today we are adopting a milestone in the ongoing EU response to the COVID-19 pandemic; the aim is to ensure safe, affordable and accessible COVID-19 vaccines for all in the EU, once they will become available. It is only by acting together that we will avoid the cacophony and be more efficient than in the past.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “It is with great concern that I am witnessing the increasingly rapid rise of infection rates all across the EU. Time is running out – everyone’s first priority should be to do what it takes to avoid the devastating consequences of generalised lockdowns. And we must all prepare for the next steps. The vaccine will not be a silver bullet, but it will play a central role to save lives and contain the pandemic. And when and if a safe and efficient vaccine is found, we need to be prepared to roll it out as quickly as possible, including building citizens’ trust in its safety and efficacy. Vaccines will not save lives – vaccinations will.”

In line with the 17 June EU Vaccines Strategy, the European Commission and Member States are securing the production of vaccines against COVID-19 through Advance Purchase Agreements with vaccine producers in Europe. Any vaccine will need to be authorised by the European Medicine Agency according to regular safety and efficacy standards. Member States should now start preparing a common vaccination strategy for vaccine deployment.

Member States should, among others, ensure:

  • capacity of vaccination services to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, including skilled workforce and medical and protective equipment;
  • easy and affordable access to vaccines for target populations;
  • deployment of vaccines with different characteristics and storage and transport needs, in particular in terms of cold chain, cooled transport and storage capacity;
  • clear communication on the benefits, risks and importance of COVID-19 vaccines to build public trust.

All Member States will have access to COVID-19 vaccines at the same time on the basis of population size. The overall number of vaccine doses will be limited during the initial stages of deployment and before production can be ramped up. The Communication therefore provides examples of unranked priority groups to be considered by countries once COVID-19 vaccines become available, including:  

  • healthcare and long-term care facility workers;
  • persons over 60 years of age;
  • persons whose state of health makes them particularly at risk;
  • essential workers;
  • persons who cannot socially distance;
  • more disadvantaged socio-economic groups.

Whilst awaiting the arrival of approved vaccines against COVID-19, and in parallel to safeguarding the continuation of other essential healthcare and public health services and programmes, the EU must continue mitigating the transmission of the virus. This can be done through the protection of vulnerable groups and ensuring that citizens adhere to public health measures. Until then and most likely also throughout the initial vaccination rollout phases, non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as physical distancing, closure of public places and adapting the work environment, [1] will continue to serve as the main public health tools to control and manage COVID-19 outbreaks.

Background

As Europe moves to the next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more imperative that countries follow common vaccination strategies and approaches. At the Special European Council meeting of 2 October, Member States called on the Council and Commission to further step up the overall coordination effort and the work on the development and distribution of vaccines at EU level[2]

On 24 September, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its updated risk assessment regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a set of guidelines for non-pharmaceutical interventions (such as hand hygiene, physical distancing, cleaning and ventilation).

As stressed by President von der Leyen in the State of the Union 2020 Address, Europe needs to continue to handle the COVID-19 pandemic with extreme care, responsibility and unity, and use the lessons learnt to strengthen the EU’s crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats.

On 15 July, the Commission adopted a Communication on short-term EU health preparedness, calling on Member States to have prevention, preparedness and response measures ready in case of future COVID-19 outbreaks. The Communication made a set of recommendations to achieve this, in the areas of e.g. testing, contact tracing and health system capacities. The effective implementation of these measures requires coordination and effective information exchange between Member States. The recommendations provided in the Strategy are still relevant and Member States are encouraged to follow them.

One of the main action points necessary for Europe to overcome the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the development, manufacturing, and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19. The EU’s vaccines strategy published in June charts the way forward.

Vaccine safety, quality and efficacy are the cornerstones of any vaccine development and authorisation process, and vaccine developers are required to submit extensive documentation and data to the European Medicines Agency through the EU Marketing Authorisation procedure. After authorisation, EU law requires that the safety of the vaccine as well as its effectiveness be monitored. Further evidence will need to be centrally collected to assess the impact and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines once rolled out in the population from a public health perspective. This will be key to overcoming the pandemic and instilling confidence in Europeans.

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EU Politics

Presidents of Parliament to gather for Athens Summit

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Presidents of Parliament from the 47 Council of Europe member states, as well as many neighbouring and observer countries and other partner parliamentary assemblies, will meet on 21 and 22 October 2021 in Athens, on the occasion of a conference organised by the Hellenic Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The Conference will be opened by the President of the Hellenic Parliament Constantine An. Tassoulas, PACE President Rik Daems, and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić.

Some 60 Presidents and Speakers, together with 300 other delegates, are expected at the biennial summit to discuss three major topical issues:

  • Democracies facing the Covid-19 public health crisis: sharing experiences
    Key-note speeches by the President of the Romanian Senate Anca Dana Dragu; the Speaker of the Russian Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko; and the President of Austria’s National Council Wolfgang Sobotka.
  • #EnvironmentRightNow’: national parliaments and the right to a healthy and sustainable environment
    Key-note speeches by the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia Kakha Kuchava; the Speaker of the Parliament of Finland Anu Vehviläinen, and a member of the Council of Europe Advisory Council on Youth, Spyros Papadatos.
  • The common future of all European citizens
    Key-note speeches by the President of the Belgian Senate Stephanie D’Hose; the President of the Cypriot House of Representatives, Anita Demetriou; and the President of the Slovenian National Assembly, Igor Zorčič.

Secretaries General of the participating parliaments and assemblies are also due to meet on the margin of the conference.

The first conference was held in 1975. It takes place every two years, hosted alternately in Strasbourg or in the capital of a Council of Europe member state. At the invitation of the Hellenic Parliament, it is held this year in Athens, when the country celebrates the bicentennial of its independence.

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EU Politics

Lorenzo Natali Media prize 2021: Winners announced

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The European Commission announced the three winners of the 2021 ‘Lorenzo Natali’ Media prize: Pari Saikia, for her work on the plight of the Rohingya, Maria Altimira, for her work on the labour exploitation of migrants and Srishti Jaswal for bringing to light the hunger situation in India. For nearly three decades, the prize has recognised courageous journalism and focused on compelling, compassionate reporting that brings to light stories that matter on the global challenges impacting society.

Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, presented the prizes to the winners at today’s award ceremony: “This award of this year’s Lorenzo Natali Media prize, recognizes three exceptional journalists, whose work exemplifies the courage, integrity and dedication to global equity. As development journalists you help bring about change – whether it is tackling inequalities, protecting universal human rights, or responding to the existential threat of climate change.”

The 2021 prizewinners, selected by a grand jury from among more than 1,100 applications from across the world, are:

Grand prize

Pari Saikia of Vice Media India, for:

“Rohingya Brides Thought They Were Fleeing Violence. Then They Met Their Grooms”

Pari Saikia’s story on the exploitation of Rohingya refugee women exposes the drivers and the methods used in trafficking women in the region.

Europe prize

Maria Altimira writing in Diario Ara, for:

“Abusos en los campos de fresas”

In this piece, Maria Altimira shines a light on the labour and sexual abuse suffered by farm workers, and attempts to hold oversight agencies accountable for abuses happening on their watch.

Best Emerging Journalist prize

Srishti Jaswal, writing in Stories Asia, for:

“The Global Hunger Index Reveals India’s Ignored Hunger Crisis”

Srishti Jaswal’s investigation reveals India’s hidden hunger crisis and the under-reporting of deaths due to starvation.

The winners were chosen by a Grand Jury of experts in the fields of journalism and development:

  • Diana Moukalled (Daraj.com)
  • Sulemana Braimah (Media Foundation for West Africa)
  • Jana Ciglerová (Denik N)
  • Zuliana Lainez (International Federation of Journalists)
  • Steve Sapienza (Pulitzer Center).

All entries underwent an initial pre-selection phase conducted by four journalism schools: Vesalius College in Brussels, Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon, Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona and Université Saint Joseph in Beirut.

Background

Established in 1992, the European Commission’s Lorenzo Natali Media Prize is awarded in memory of Lorenzo Natali, a former Commissioner for Development and Cooperation. He was a staunch defender of freedom of expression, democracy, human rights and development.

The prize recognises high-quality, courageous reporting on compelling issues such as climate change, women´s rights, inequality, healthcare, democracy and human rights.

The prize’s three categories in 2021 were:

  • Grand prize: for reporting published by a media outlet based in one of the European Union’s partner countries.
  • Europe prize: for reporting published by a media outlet based in the European Union.
  • Best Emerging Journalist prize: for reporting by journalists under the age of 30, published in a media outlet based in the European Union or in one of its partner countries.

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EU Politics

70% of the EU adult population fully vaccinated

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Today, the EU has reached a crucial milestone with 70% of the adult population now fully vaccinated. In total, over 256 million adults in the EU have now received a full vaccine course. Seven weeks ago already, the Commission’s delivery target was met, ahead of time: to provide Member States, by the end of July, with enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 70% of the adult EU population.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said:  “The full vaccination of 70% of adults in the EU already in August is a great achievement. The EU’s strategy of moving forward together is paying off and putting Europe at the vanguard of the global fight against COVID-19.  But the pandemic is not over. We need more. I call on everyone who can to get vaccinated. And we need to help the rest of the world vaccinate, too. Europe will continue to support its partners in this effort, in particular the low and middle income countries.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said:  “I am very pleased that as of today we have reached our goal to vaccinate 70% of EU adults before the end of the summer. This is a collective achievement of the EU and its Member States that shows what is possible when we work together with solidarity and in coordination. Our efforts to further increase vaccinations across the EU will continue unabated. We will continue to support in particular those Member States that are continuing to face challenges. We need to close the immunity gap and the door for new variants and to do so, vaccinations must win the race over variants.”

Global cooperation and solidarity

The rapid, full vaccination of all targeted populations – in Europe and globally – is key to controlling the impact of the pandemic. The EU has been leading the multilateral response. The EU has exported about half of the vaccines produced in Europe to other countries in the world, as much as it has delivered for its citizens.  Team Europe has contributed close to €3 billion for the COVAX Facility to help secure at least 1.8 billion doses for 92 low and lower middle-income countries. Currently, over 200 million doses have been delivered by COVAX to 138 countries.

In addition, Team Europe aims to share at least 200 million more doses of vaccines secured under the EU’s advance purchase agreements to low and middle-income countries until the end of 2021, in particular through COVAX, as part of the EU sharing efforts

Preparing for new variants

Given the threat of new variants, it is important to continue ensuring the availability of sufficient vaccines, including adapted vaccines, also in the coming years. That is why the Commission signed a new contract with BioNTech-Pfizer on 20 May, which foresees the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccines between the end of the year and 2023. For the same purpose, the Commission has also exercised the option of 150 million doses of the second Moderna contract. Member States have the possibility to resell or donate doses to countries in need outside the EU or through the COVAX Facility, contributing to a global and fair access to vaccines across the world. Other contracts may follow. This is the EU’s common insurance policy against any future waves of COVID-19.

Background

A safe and effective vaccine is our best chance to beat coronavirus and return to our normal lives. The European Commission has been working tirelessly to secure doses of potential vaccines that can be shared with all.

The European Commission has secured up to 4.6 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far and negotiations are underway for additional doses. The Commission is also working with industry to step up vaccine manufacturing capacity.

At the same time, the Commission has started work to tackle new variants, aiming to rapidly develop and produce effective vaccines against these variants on a large scale. The HERA Incubator helps in responding to this threat.

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