MEPs debate EU’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy

EU must stay unified and ensure equal access to vaccines, says Socialist Group leader Iratxe Garcia.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

20 Jan 2021

Iratxe Garcia, addressing criticism of the EU vaccine strategy and a slow roll out of vaccines, said, “It is important to send out a message of hope.”

She told MEPs during this week’s virtual European Parliament plenary session that, “The EU has bought the vaccines and this is an EU success story. Not one single Member State would have had the ability to do this acting alone.

“United we are stronger but this solidarity should not be weakened by some Member States who have tried to do things on their own. This approach undermines the EU vaccines strategy.”

Garcia told the plenary on Tuesday, “Some Member States are trying to flout EU solidarity but we must keep our unity and ensure we have equal access to vaccines. If we do that then I am confident that 380 million Europeans will be vaccinated by the summer. But we must not have parallel negotiations or parallel contracts being signed.”

She added, “At the same time we must speed up the distribution of vaccines and any delay will not be acceptable.”

Dacian Ciolos, the European Parliament’s Renew Europe Group leader, also spoke in the plenary debate adding, “We must not risk undermining the success of the EU’s vaccination programme and strategy by unnecessary delays.”

“So I would ask: what is being done to speed up the administration of vaccines? What is behind the distribution delays? If we leave these questions unanswered it will backfire on us.”

“Some Member States are trying to flout EU solidarity but we must keep our unity and ensure we have equal access to vaccines. If we do that then I am confident that 380 million Europeans will be vaccinated by the summer. But we must not have parallel negotiations or parallel contracts being signed” European Parliament Socialist Group leader Iratxe Garcia

Portugal’s European affairs minister, Ana Paula Zacarias, speaking in the same parliamentary plenary debate on the crisis, conceded that “vaccine demand outstrips supply” and that many people were suffering from “pandemic fatigue.”

Her comments come with some countries, notably the UK and Israel, forging ahead of EU member states in the roll out of vaccines.

On Tuesday, the UK said it had vaccinated over four million people but there is continued stiff criticism of the EU – and Member States – for the perceived slow roll out of the two vaccines so far approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). So far, for example, only 100,000 people in Belgium have had the vaccine.

Zacarias told MEPs the debate “comes at a critical moment because the situation in Europe remains very worrying. New strains of the virus mean that things will get worse before they get better.”

“All this comes when we all feel pandemic fatigue and from the consequences of lockdowns.”

She told the chamber, “But the start of the vaccination campaign gives us a glimmer of hope that we can save lives and provide a lifeline to economic recovery.

“The scientists managed vaccine development in under one year which is a great success for science and also for the EU which has been at the forefront of a global mobilisation to secure access to safe and effective vaccines for each and every European.”

“But now we need to go on. We need more vaccines and to ensure a roll out of vaccines in all member states to people who want to be vaccinated.”

She admitted, “Currently, demand outstrips supply so we must ensure as many people as possible are vaccinated and that the roll out must be rapid and effective.”

“Despite some difficulties there are still reasons to be optimistic: additional vaccines are in the pipeline and will get approval in the coming weeks. But getting vaccine to people remains a great challenge and we must also convince some people of the merits of vaccines” Portugal’s European affairs minister, Ana Paula Zacarias

She said, “Despite some difficulties there are still reasons to be optimistic: additional vaccines are in the pipeline and will get approval in the coming weeks. But getting vaccine to people remains a great challenge and we must also convince some people of the merits of vaccines.”

“We will continue to monitor vaccination campaigns and will also consider the role of a vaccine certificate.”

“But I must also stress the importance of international cooperation because we will not be safe while our neighbours remain sick. We have a responsibility to the most vulnerable in our southern and eastern neighbourhoods in Europe.

“This all amounts to a huge responsibility and we need to deliver.”

Another speaker, Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said that with 400,000 lives lost to the virus in Europe “we are still far from overcoming this pandemic.”

She added, “But we have turned a page and have a powerful tool now at hand to put an end to this so there is life at the end of the horizon.”

She told members that “priority groups are being vaccinated across the EU” and more vaccines will come on stream in the next few weeks, including the AstraZeneca jab which still awaits EMA approval.

She said, “The virus is bigger than the EU. It is a global pandemic and no country will be safe until the virus is under control in all continents.”

“The EU has been unfairly criticised but we are all in this together and we want to ensure every single person, everywhere will get a vaccine. But this is only the start.”

The aim, she said, was to administer 2.3 billion doses by the end of the year.

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