It’s all in the prep: Keeping Europe safe from future health threats

A holistic approach to preparedness is required when responding to the threat of future health crises. Ask Eirik Storsve calls for the EU to co-ordinate preparedness programs across member states to ensure a stronger, more resilient Europe

By Ask Eirik Storsve

Ask Eirik Storsve is Head of European Government Affairs at Emergent

05 Apr 2024

Recent history has shown that what was once unthinkable may become reality. The global pandemic, the return of war to the European continent in Ukraine, and the use of chemical and radiological weapons in the United Kingdom and further abroad demonstrate that abstract threats can rapidly materialise.

Now, more than ever, national and continental preparedness programmes need greater attention to ensure that when events like these occur, Europe is prepared to respond. The national and economic security consequences of these events necessitate a holistic approach to preparedness.

At Emergent, a global life sciences company, we work alongside government and private partners to prepare for, and protect against, public health threats. We develop and manufacture medical countermeasures, which are medicines that can be used to prevent, protect from or treat disease in the event of a potential public health emergency, whether that emergency is manmade, accidental or naturally occurring.

The European Union and many member states continue to work toward preparedness programmes, which share commonalities that can lead to greater efficiencies, and resilient institutions and societies. Consistent budgets are vital for training, early warning, the stockpiling of countermeasures and emergency response. Flexible acquisition frameworks, with the requisite oversight, are necessary. Deep co-ordination and co-operation between national governments and within EU institutions is critical for effective preparation. Both national and EU-level preparedness measures are vital and parallel processes can be mutually reinforcing. An approach should be fostered to encourage and improve the visibility of national needs and requirements, while using the power of the EU to co-ordinate and pool efforts across all member states. 

Threats, such as disease and conflicts, do not respect national borders. Preparing for these eventualities means greater information sharing and openness. Disease surveillance measures, many of which are already active, require strengthening and greater investment. State-to-state co-operation on threat sharing, beyond pandemic disease, is also necessary, particularly in a post-Ukraine world.

Solutions often rely on effective public-private collaborations, particularly when medical countermeasures are involved. Co-ordination is therefore essential between government agencies and the private sector. The private sector is a key partner in providing critical medicines, goods and services to national governments and the EU. Effectively leveraging the private sector requires clear and consistent demand signals from partner governments and institutions, as well as co-ordination to avoid duplication of efforts.

Preparedness is not a destination, but an ongoing process

Bringing the private sector into the conversation early and often will also help identify and expose systemic weaknesses in supply chains both before and during a crisis. The 2020 pandemic saw significant disruptions as countries and institutions raced to procure for their urgent needs and requirements. Stress-testing supply chains ahead of time, with the involvement of the private sector, may expose vulnerabilities and risks that could be mitigated ahead of time.

Preparedness is not a destination, but an ongoing process. Learning the lessons of recent crises and broadly planning for future events will see Europe in a far stronger and more secure position when the unthinkable occurs. The political, economic, and most importantly the human costs of responding to a crisis outweigh the costs of thorough preparation and preparedness programmes.