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Remarks by Commissioner Stella Kyriakides in the Plenary of the European Parliament on the EU Vaccine Strategy

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 10 februari 2021.

Mr President,

Minister Zacarias,

Madam President,

Honourable Members,

Let me thank you all for this vibrant debate, which is a testament of both the role of this House and of the great importance of this issue.

I will start from where President von der Leyen left off:

We are all doing our best to fight the virus.

Across the Union and across the world, it is by now abundantly clear:

We will only meet this challenge if we all stick together.

We are all fighting to defeat a common enemy: the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vaccines against the pandemic are the key to unlock the door out of this crisis.

And we will continue working day and night, to ensure that these vaccines are brought to our citizens.

By the end of the summer, we want 70% of adults in Europe to be vaccinated.

We want to ensure that this happens in a fair, equitable way.

In a way which ensures that this strategic public good is distributed as quickly as possible to all.

To all our Member States - fairly, and equally. Regardless of size.

Always with their full agreement and in full transparency.

A total of 26 million vaccine doses have been delivered in Europe since December.

More than 17 million people have been vaccinated in every corner of Europe.

The pace of vaccinations can and should increase.

We are confident and will do our best that this will happen in the coming weeks.

Let us recall the three fundamental points which are at the very basis of our debate today:

First: that it was right that we Europeans procured the vaccine together - in solidarity.

Second: that we have moral duty to show the same solidarity to partners in our neighbourhood and across the world.

Third: that we are already drawing the lessons of what we can improve. The regulatory environment; the industrial ecosystem; the operational environment and the predictability our Member States should have to roll out vaccinations.

We have drawn these early lessons and we are acting on them.

Let me now turn to some of your questions.

Firstly, on transparency. As I have stated several times in this House, with the EU Vaccines Strategy, we have always strived for as much transparency as possible at every step of the way. We owe it to our institutions and our citizens to be transparent and accountable for our decisions. This is the only way that we can build trust in this critical area.

In order to enhance our cooperation even further, as mentioned by the President, we propose the creation of a Contact Group on vaccines. This will allow the Commission and the Parliament to regularly exchange views on the most pressing issues, and most importantly, to work together in finding solutions.

But I welcome the fact that so far, following our requests, three of our contracts have been made publicly available. Tomorrow, the Johnson & Johnson contract will be made available in a reading room.

We will persist with the other companies in order to obtain their agreement to make our contracts available to Members of the Parliament, and public at large, as quickly as possible.

When it comes to vaccine production and deliveries, there are many lessons to be learned from this process. Given the impact of the crisis, it is perfectly natural for everyone to expect a rapid and seamless rollout of vaccines. And this is precisely why we had spread out our investments across as broad portfolio of vaccine candidates as possible, and why we fixed the number of doses and delivery schedules in our agreements.

I can assure you that, we have acted as fast as we could, for and on behalf of all 27 Member States, when it comes to securing doses, investing in production capacity with companies, and approving safe and effective vaccine candidates.

This was never about prices or being difficult. It was about ensuring that our citizens would have access to the safest and most effective vaccines, that we would have strong provisions on liability and that we had all the safety procedures in place.

We expected that we would face hurdles along the way, including unexpected ones. We can for sure go back and find things we could have done differently and better.

But now, our focus is on ensuring that vaccines reach our citizens and the rest of the world, as quickly as possible and working with companies to eliminate bottlenecks in production and also looking at adjusting vaccine production to new virus variants.

What we need now is an immediate response to the urgent threat of coronavirus variants. And what we need going forward is the capacity at EU level to produce vaccines independently.

As of next week, we will launch a Bio Defence Preparedness programme, our first action under the new Health Emergency, Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), which will come later this year. We will launch a public-private collaboration to develop and manufacture vaccines at scale, to respond to the threat of new variants more forcefully. We know that preparedness is everything. But preparedness requires foresight, both for the current crisis, and for any future ones.

Honourable Members,

We fully share your sense of urgency. We are on the same side.

There are many pressing issues in play. You have raised many of them today, and there will undoubtedly be more challenges ahead. The emergence of new variants only adds to this emergency and the sense of urgency.

President von der Leyen said this is a marathon, and it is. And we need to show the same level of determination, resilience, and unity.

This is why we want to cooperate close with this House, to find sustainable solutions to these crucial issues. Because we are in this together. Collaboration and trust offer the surest path to overcoming this crisis. This is what true solidarity is about.

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