We now need to invest in getting enough vaccines in developing countries. At the same time, new pandemics must be prepared for.
Coronavirus pandemic is nowhere near the end. It is also likely that new pandemics will threaten humanity in the coming decades. Preventing pandemics is as much a common interest as combating climate change. The whole world must therefore work together to prevent crises such as the coronavirus pandemic.
G20 finance ministers report, which we were involved in drafting, suggests that priority should now be given to investing in pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. Funding would help fill large gaps in global health security.
We estimate that more effective monitoring, strengthening health care systems, and improving the production and distribution of medicines and supplies would require $ 15 billion in funding each year. The investment pays for itself: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that vaccination faster than now seen could save $ 9 trillion globally, and the cost would be small in relation to the savings.
Coronavirus pandemic has shown that an adequate supply and distribution of medicines and medical supplies is vital. Globally, coronavirus vaccines have been in short supply and billions of people are still unvaccinated. The IMF estimates that if we continue as before, by the end of this year, six billion doses of vaccine could have been produced – enough for 45% of the world’s population. In this case, large areas remain still unprotected and the emergence of new virus variants cannot be prevented.
In the early stages of the pandemic, there was a shortage of health care equipment and other equipment. Such a shortage of capacity increases human suffering, prolongs the duration of restrictions and causes great economic losses.
Serious the situation calls for bold action. Europe has the opportunity to play a major role in the global distribution of vaccines now and in future pandemics. European companies have developed effective coronavirus vaccines, and European Union decision-makers have been reluctant to limit the use of production to EU countries. Indeed, about half of the vaccines produced in the EU have been exported outside the Union.
However, the EU could do even more. It is in Europe’s interest that as many people as possible have been vaccinated: no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Multilateral cooperation, as called for by the EU, has been seen in initiatives such as Covax, which seeks a more equitable distribution of vaccines, or in the G7 pledge in June to donate a billion vaccines, but these are not enough to solve the problem. The Union should continue to support poorer countries to obtain vaccines. It could offer donations, grants, or a soft loan that countries could use to buy vaccines. Support could also be provided through Covax. The EU should help countries buy vaccines on similar terms as the Union buys them in its internal market in consultation with European manufacturers.
Vaccines and the production capacity of other medicines needs to be strengthened. It would be beneficial if vaccine production could be accelerated during a pandemic. This requires financial support, especially in quieter times – when there is no pandemic. Private companies do not have sufficient incentives to maintain excess production capacity. As the pandemic gradually subsides, the EU should continue to support the construction and maintenance of vaccine production chains so that more vaccines can be produced again if necessary. Research funding should also be increased.
Decentralization of vaccine production would make it more sustainable and fairer. The Franco-German initiative to promote Biontech’s vaccine production in South Africa is a positive example.
It is morally right and it is in Europe’s interest to step up the fight against a pandemic worldwide.
Anne Bucher and Guntram Wolff
Bucher is a Visiting Fellow at the Bruegel Research Center in Brussels and former Director of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety. Wolff is the director of the Bruegel Research Center.
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