- The European Union will use a significant chunk of a roughly $3 billion emergency fund to make advance purchases of potential coronavirus vaccines from individual companies, the European Commission announced.
- Loans from the European Investment Bank will also support companies as they rush to develop and manufacture a vaccine against the novel coronavirus in an unprecedented timeframe.
- At the same time, the commission is proposing that other high-income countries band together with the EU to reserve vaccines both for themselves and low- and middle-income nations that don’t have the wherewithal to do it alone.
Vaccines normally take years to test and mass produce; the European Union, like the U.S., is trying to shrink that timeframe to 12 to 18 months. In addition to providing financial help to companies who are ramping up production before they even know if a vaccine candidate will work, European authorities pledged to reduce regulatory barriers along the way.
Payments from the emergency fund to drugmakers would be considered a down payment on purchases made later by member states, the commission said.
European officials acknowledged that some of the investment may be for naught because the vaccines in development might fail in clinical trials. But by chipping in cash, the countries aim to act as an insurance policy, transferring some risk from drugmakers in return for access to successful products.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it “a moment for science and solidarity.”
The news marks the latest example of countries scurrying to gain access to experimental coronavirus vaccines. Earlier this week, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, working together in a group called the Inclusive Vaccines Alliance, secured 400 million doses of a University of Oxford vaccine candidate under development by AstraZeneca.
The U.S. has pledged as much as $1.2 billion to AstraZeneca, while claiming 300 million doses for Americans. And the U.S. has awarded hundreds of millions more to a wide variety of companies, including Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Meanwhile, some nations are investing directly in the industry. Germany is buying shares worth 300 million euros in vaccine maker CureVac.
Vaccine makers must walk a careful line in seeking investments while promising products that can be used globally. France’s Sanofi has already dealt with backlash after CEO Paul Hudson told Bloomberg News that Americans would likely get first dibs on a vaccine because of early U.S. investment.
In today’s announcement, the European Commission was careful to emphasize the importance of a global solution. It’s working with other governments and groups such as the World Health Organization to ensure access to vaccines and said it’s “ready to explore” pooling resources with international partners to expand purchasing agreements that would benefit poorer nations.
Within the EU, regulators will “make the greatest use of existing flexibilities” to help speed vaccines, while still ensuring they are safe and effective products, the commission said.
So far, more than 8 million people around the world have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. More than 440,000 have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.