EIB boss: Vaccine access could mean difference between 'war and peace'

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Werner Hoyer, president at the European Investment Bank. Photo by: European Union

A failure to vaccinate people everywhere, beyond the borders of wealthy countries, is not just an ethical issue, but “it is a question of stability around the world,” the president of the European Investment Bank said Wednesday.

“This can become a question of enormous instabilities and a question of enormous social unrest,” Werner Hoyer said at a press conference. “It can develop into a question of war and peace.”

Announcing the multilateral lender’s results for 2020, Hoyer told journalists that access to vaccines against COVID-19 is “not luxury; this is global responsibility.”

The bank recently issued a €400 million loan to the COVAX Facility, designed to help low- and middle-income countries reserve capacity with manufacturers for vaccine candidates before they are licensed. However, with the facility yet to start distributing vaccines, questions have been raised about its efficacy.

In a policy document released Tuesday, the European Commission said it is exploring a new mechanism to share access to some of the 2.3 billion vaccine doses the European Union has secured.

According to the document, special attention would be given to the Western Balkans, the EU’s eastern and southern neighbors, and Africa to “primarily benefit health workers, as well as humanitarian needs.”

EU finalizes €500M boost for COVAX

The support includes the European Investment Bank's largest-ever financing for public health outside the EU, in a bid to support access to vaccines for low- and middle-income countries.

“This mechanism would act as a single point for requests and a pipeline through which initial doses can be provided, possibly through COVAX, without disrupting [EU] Member States’ vaccination plans,” the document reads. “Numbers would increase as supplies of vaccines increase, and until COVAX is able to supply large enough volumes directly from companies.”

Overall, EIB hit €77 billion in financing in 2020, of which €10.2 billion went to countries outside the EU. That included €4.7 billion in lending in more than 50 deals in Africa — a 50% increase compared with 2019. Some 71% of the €2.1 billion in loans to sub-Saharan Africa went to least developed countries or fragile states, compared with 53% of €1.1 billion in sub-Saharan lending in 2019.

On the same day that Joe Biden took office as president of the United States, Hoyer took the occasion to welcome the U.S. “back among the community of believers in partnership, cooperation, and multilateralism,” adding, “You have been missed.”

The German also offered an insight into where he would like to see more EIB activity in coming years.

“I see clearly a link — in the context of strategic autonomy — between innovation, climate, and development,” he said. “This area, from the technology side, is still one of the few where Europe still has an edge. We are the avant-garde there, and we should preserve that status and expand it. And this is why I believe the European Union needs more activities of its bank in this field, in order to multiply the efforts that we can bring about together.”

About the author

  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.