Opening remarks by Vice-President Schinas:
We are living turbulent times, the health situation across Europe is extremely uncertain and delicate. The impact of the pandemic on the economy and society are unprecedented.
While the evolution of the pandemic is getting back to March levels, our state of preparedness is not. Contrary to the first wave, we have now a framework for coordination in place.
The Communication we are presenting today with Commissioner Kyriakides on preparedness for COVID-19 vaccination deployment is a milestone in this process.
But at the same time, today's initiative is just one piece of the overall Covid European response puzzle.
Please allow me to remind and highlight that in the last months we have been active on all fronts. The Commission has pulled out all the stops to fight the pandemic and its economic fallout. An unprecedented recovery of historic proportions is now on the table. More than 828 measures have been adopted since March, including 373 State aid decisions giving European companies a lifeline and many measures to preserve the internal market, transport services and organise our internal and external borders to mention just a few.
What began with isolated cases quickly turned into an emergency that affected every country, region and person. Since the beginning of the year, too many lives have been lost in the EU because of the pandemic; many more have lost their lives in other parts of the world.
And yet, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved. If the European Union, our institutions and our Member States had not acted swiftly and decisively, to protect EU lives and livelihoods, the tragedy would have been much greater. Frontline workers have performed their duties heroically, citizens have taken great sacrifices affecting their fundamental freedoms and unprecedented measures have been taken to stem the spread of the virus.
Europe has become the beating heart of world solidarity.
Hospitals have welcomed and treated patients from across borders; institutions and Member States have teamed up to purchase medical equipment; mobile health teams have been dispatched to answer the most urgent needs; more than 600.000 stranded EU citizens have been repatriated from beyond the borders of the European Union; and public and private investment, at European and national levels, has been mobilised to find a vaccine for everyone across the world .
This crisis has shown European solidarity at its best.
In the area of public health, the EU achieved what no Member State could have done alone. Guidelines on testing methodologies and free movement of healthcare professionals, medical devices and protective equipment, along with voluntary contact tracing applications, guaranteed that best practices were shared and scaled up. A new self-standing programme EU4 health is in the making.
In line with the EU's vaccine strategy, the Commission and some Member States are conducting intensive negotiations with several vaccine developers to build a diversified portfolio of vaccines for EU citizens at fair prices.
The EU has safeguarded the integrity of the single market. As long queues of trucks started to form at border crossings inside the EU, the Commission created the ‘green lanes' to ensure that essential goods could be transported swiftly across borders, and acted against disproportionate internal restrictions that were creating new shortages.
And we have provided as much information as possible to our citizens. The EU has developed a new online tool - ‘Re-open EU' - that brings together information on travel, transportation and tourism restrictions across all Member States. ‘Re-open EU' has been used by tens of millions of people in Europe and beyond.
The EU has also led the global response to the crisis, setting up a new collaborative framework to accelerate the development and deployment of vaccines, treatments and tests across the world, with nearly EUR 16 billion raised.
In our external action against the coronavirus, we have always acted as 'Team Europe'. This means that the European Commission, the EU financial institutions and the Member States have joined forces to achieve a shared set of goals.
A few hours before the start of the European Council, we feel the need to remind the remarkable strand of work that has been undertaken at EU level for months and personally I find it often sad that this remarkable work is not always recognised as one of the EU successes during these past months. But we are continuing this work and todays proposal is yet another step in this overall European policy response.
It builds on the EU vaccines strategy we adopted in June. Then, the focus was on reaching contracts with industry to secure the production of vaccines once available; we have made a lot of progress since then and have by now already three contracts signed for nearly 1 billion doses.
Now, with this proposal we identify actions to ensure vaccines are deployed effectively in the EU, building on a number of key parameters that Stella will present:
Safety: yes we want a vaccine quickly; but one that is safe. For this, we propose to monitor the performance of vaccination thorough rules and to ensure clear and timely information to the public. This is a crucial aspect, as vaccination take up will highly depend on the level of trust of the population.
Fairness: we want a vaccine that is affordable and accessible. We stand by the principle of vaccines free of charge and of physical proximity to the population, to ensure vaccines reach every person in the EU. At the same time, we stress our commitment to make the vaccine a global public good, by recalling our international efforts in this respect.
Prioritisation: we will not be able to vaccinate everybody on day one. Therefore, we propose a common approach to decide who is to be vaccinated first. This is also important in terms of fairness among EU citizens across the EU.
Flexibility: the Plan identifies different elements in the distribution chain that need to be prepared in advance, to ensure effective delivery of the vaccine across the European union: from dedicated infrastructures and trained staff to necessary equipment and logistics.
So all this is our latest contribution to the very complex and fully developing puzzle of EU response to the pandemic. Stella will now present the concrete actions and initiatives foreseen in the Strategy.
Thank you for your attention.
Opening remarks by Commissioner Kyriakides:
Ladies and gentlemen, looking at the situation today, the EU, as other parts of the world and I had the opportunity to communicate with WHO in the last few days, the COVID-19 numbers are clearly going in the wrong direction.
We are watching with great concern an increasingly rapid rise of infection rates all across the EU. Together with the increase in new cases, we are seeing an increase in hospitalisations, in the number of those cases that are more severe and, unfortunately - also more people losing their lives.
We are not where we were at the beginning of this year. We are working closer than ever with Member States and we see an unprecedented coordination.
Member States seek and want a more active and present role for the EU, even in an area where our competences are few.
But unfortunately, as in every crisis and in time of extreme pressures, the situation on the ground is putting this coordination to the test.
Measures work only if they are effectively enforced - and if we, the citizens, are the very frontline of this effort.
My first message to Member States today is one of urgency: We are running out of time.
Everyone needs to do what is necessary to avoid the devastating health, social and economic effects of generalised lockdowns.
My second message is one of preparedness: We need to be one step ahead of developments, we cannot afford to be a step behind. And as a Commission this is what we have been doing for the past few months, with recommendations and communications on what needed to be in place for the months ahead.
We do not yet have a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, but we are doing everything we can to ensure that at least one is produced as quickly as and as safely as possible.
Vaccination will not be a quick fix solution, but it will play a central role in saving lives, in containing the pandemic, in protecting health care systems, and in helping to restore our economy. It will provide citizens with a sense of hope and predictability in their lives.
Importantly, when and if one is found, we need to be prepared to roll it out as quickly as possible.
Today, to address the call of EU Leaders at the last European Council, we are presenting the key elements of preparedness for successful and coordinated COVID-19 vaccination strategies, to ensure efficient and targeted rollouts, once a vaccine is available.
What we are asking Member States to look at as a priority is:
The capacity of vaccination services to deliver COVID-19 vaccines in order that we have the necessary staff with the necessary skills and equipment to do this.
Target population - Which groups should be prioritised?
Easy access to vaccines for target populations - can everyone afford to get vaccinated and can it be easily accessed?
The deployment of vaccines with different characteristics in terms of storage and transport - can the necessary transport and storage capacities be put in place?
This all needs to be in place when a safe and effective vaccine is found.
Also of crucial importance, for vaccines to truly work, TRUST in their safety and effectiveness is paramount. Safety and trust go hand in hand.
Vaccine hesitancy needs to be addressed as a priority, in collaboration with health professionals as trusted sources to fight disinformation and misinformation. This can only happen if we have frank and open communication to citizens.
Whilst our experts and scientists are working around the clock to develop a vaccine in record time, they are also working around the clock to guarantee that safety, quality and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and safety remains our top priority. This is non-negotiable for us and we will do everything necessary to ensure it.
The European Medicines Agency will conduct an independent and scientific assessment for each vaccine candidate, and once authorised, the safety will be scrupulously and continuously monitored. Rolling data reviews from clinical trials have already started.
But until we have a vaccine, and also throughout the initial vaccination phases, public health measures must remain our main tool to contain COVID-19 outbreaks.
Testing, contact tracing, and preparing health care systems are paramount - this is where Member States' focus should be at the moment, this should be the priority of all governments.
And I have been calling almost all Health Minister to emphasise this over the last few days, to listen to their concerns and different situations but also to stress that the measures we highlighted in our July communication remain essential to look out for the most vulnerable.
Finally following health advice should be the priority of our citizens, no matter how difficult and tiresome it is.
We are all sick and tired of this. But if we do not adhere to measures and protect each other, we will not be able to fight this pandemic, and we will lose loved ones because of it.
We need to reach out to different age groups and communicate to them in dfferent. We are all part of the solution to this pandemic. I cannot stress this enough.
We will never be able to turn the tide from one day to another, not even with a vaccine.
But everyone must get ready. It is not vaccines that save lives: vaccinations do!