Brussels urged member states to prepare for a COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday as it unveiled its strategy to ensure it is deployed as quickly as possible across the bloc.
The European Commission urged member states to start work to ensure that when a vaccine has been approved by the European Medicines Agency, they can store and transport it appropriately and have the skilled workforce and medical equipment necessary to carry out the procedure.
Member states should also ensure access to the vaccine is easy and affordable for target populations and issue clear communications on the benefits, risks and importance of the vaccines to build trust, the Commission said.
“A safe and effective vaccine is our best shot at beating the coronavirus and returning to our normal lives,” Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
“We must ensure that once a vaccine is found, we are fully prepared to deploy it,” she also said, stressing: “If we want our vaccination to be successful, we need to prepare now.”
Brussels reiterated that all member states will have access to an approved vaccine at the same time, and that doses will be dispatched on the basis of population size.
Doses will, however, be limited initially before production can be ramped up so the Commission has advised that certain groups be prioritised.
These include health care and long-term care facility workers, people over the age of 60, those with pre-existing conditions that make them vulnerable, essential workers, persons who cannot socially distance and more disadvantaged socio-economic groups.
Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President for Promoting the European Way fo Life, told reporters that “on health, we are stronger together.”
He also argued that the strategy would ensure that “the cacophony” witnessed at the beginning of the pandemic will not be repeated. “Coordination is the name of the game,” he said.
The EU has signed Advance Purchase Agreements with major pharmaceutical companies Sanofi-GSK, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson to secure hundreds of millions of doses.
Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriades emphasised however that “the vaccine will not be silver bullet” against the disease. “Vaccines will not save lives — vaccinations will,” she said.
But as a vaccine is not expected to be ready and approved by authorities for at least several more months, Kyriades urged “citizens to continue following public health advice, no matter how painful and tiresome it is.”
“It is the only way we will protect each other in the months ahead,” she said.
It came as the World Health Organization in Europe said the situation across the region was “worrying”.
The EU/EEA and UK area is the second most impacted region in the world after the Americas with more than 197,000 deaths and 4.3 million infections recorded since the beginning of the pandemic.