The European Commission is working on a plan for “targeted vaccine-sharing” by European Union states with low-income countries outside the bloc. And part of the scheme, detailed in a commission nonpaper sent Thursday for discussion among EU member states and obtained by Devex, could be separate from COVAX, the global pooling initiative for COVID-19 vaccines.
As Russia and China begin sending doses abroad, and with French President Emmanuel Macron calling Thursday for Europe and the United States to immediately send 5% of their vaccines to Africa, the EU is under pressure to show it is thinking of the rest of the world — even amid a shaky rollout at home.
To create “additional momentum” for “greater vaccine solidarity,” and in addition to EU financial support and potential vaccine sharing through COVAX itself — which remains underfunded and has yet to deliver any of the vaccines under its portfolio to 92 low- and middle-income countries — the paper also envisages “targeted vaccine-sharing” with countries outside the EU.
“In the short term, and in full complementarity with COVAX, the Commission can assist Member States wanting to do so, in efforts to bridge the time until COVAX delivers in larger quantities,” the paper states. “This will notably happen through direct reselling or donations from individual Member States for limited quantities to well targeted recipient countries in line with the priorities endorsed by the European Council of 21 January (notably Western Balkans, Neighbourhood and Africa).”
The European Commission is pushing a new "vaccine-sharing mechanism," but the details are vague for now — and some are skeptical that they should be sharing at all.
Under the mechanism, overseen by the commission, EU countries would indicate whether their donations are for a “global pot,” handled by COVAX; for Africa, handled by COVAX; or for the Western Balkan or the Eastern Neighbourhood countries, “handled through COVAX or EU mechanisms, depending on what would be the most appropriate solution.”
“There should be a shared understanding such an approach is not to weaken COVAX which should remain the main vehicle for vaccines sharing,” according to the paper, which is intended as a preliminary basis for discussion between EU member state officials Friday.
The plan is portrayed as “gradual,” building up “as vaccines availability improves and until COVAX is able to supply large enough volumes directly from companies.”
It is designed to overcome three challenges outlined in the paper:
1. “The current global shortage of vaccines in the short term … and the need to avoid disruptions in the vaccination roll out in the EU.”
2. “The general COVAX approach means possible soft / regional targeting. It implies rather limited visibility of Member States, Team Europe and the European Union.”
3. Vaccine issues are being discussed “sometimes simultaneously” in different forums in Europe, and “consistency and synergies between the different tracks are needed.”
The paper states that the commission’s answer “keeps COVAX’s leading role, while reflecting the objectives of all Member States, including with regard to targeting recipients and visibility.”
At a press conference Thursday, Devex asked Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general at the World Health Organization, whether Macron’s initiative and the prospect of EU members choosing which countries receive its donated shots risked undermining COVAX, which pools resources and shots to ensure equitable distribution.
Tedros responded that he spoke with Macron last week and that the French president’s remarks Thursday were “in line with the objectives of the ACT-Accelerator,” of which COVAX is a part, for equitable access to vaccines.
“On [choosing countries], as long as the support goes through COVAX, it’s actually welcome,” Tedros said, explaining some countries may prefer to give their donations to certain countries “because they are their neighbors or because they have some relationship.”
“What we can do is that if this comes through the COVAX the earmarked donation can go to those countries, then the COVAX stock could go to other countries. So we can strike a balance,” Tedros said. “One thing which doesn’t help is when countries on their own go and provide directly to other countries, because the balancing act will be a bit difficult when it is not going through the COVAX Facility that can help in balancing the distribution or sharing.”
Neither WHO nor Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which jointly run the COVAX initiative, immediately responded to requests for comment on the EU paper.
The G-7 group of nations is set to meet via videoconference Friday, with an EU official telling reporters Thursday that “we expect some leaders to make additional commitments” to COVAX.