When the coronavirus hit the region in 2020, EU member states were unable to agree on vaccine deployment “their main line of defense against it. National governments entrusted vaccine procurement to the European Commission, but then failed to harmonize their production and distribution strategies, or reach a consensus on which groups should be vaccinated first. More recently, 13 European countries suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a small number of people who had received it developed atypical vascular thrombosis.
The European Medicines Agency’s subsequent conclusion that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective has not reassured everyone. While several EU countries have continued or resumed their rollout of the vaccine, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden have maintained their suspensions, while France has limited its use to people over 55. These continued differences are fueling increasing public mistrust, not only of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine but of the entire COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
The EU’s first priority for the coming weeks must be to address the vaccine shortage. Here again, member states have failed to agree, and some are not hesitating to shop outside the EU for supplies. Hungary is distributing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, Slovakia has purchased it, and the Czech Republic is considering doing so, while Hungary has also bought hundreds of thousands of doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Furthermore, Austria and Denmark recently announced a separate agreement with Israel for the production of next-generation COVID-19 vaccines. This pact notably foresees the establishment of a joint fund for research and development, and collaboration in clinical trials outside regular EU programs.
At the same time, Europe must protect people at risk who either are waiting to be vaccinated or will not respond to vaccines because they have a particular disease or are receiving certain treatments. In the United States, monoclonal antibodies have been highly effective in meeting these important needs. France, Germany, and Italy did not wait for EMA approval before offering these therapies once their national regulatory agencies had approved them, suggesting that antibody nationalism may be as prevalent as vaccine nationalism. Faced with these challenges, the European Commission established a task force to manage vaccine supply in the coming months.