Misc 19/01/2021

Brussels pushes for European vaccination certificate and 70% of population to be immunised in summer

Part of a contract with a pharmaceutical company has been published following criticism from MEPs

Júlia Manresa Nogueras
4 min
La Comissària de Salut, Stella Kyriakides i el comissari d'Estil de Vida Europeu, Margaritis Schinas.

BrusselsThe vaccination campaign in the European Union is not going fast enough. Until now European leaders like the Danish and Finnish Prime Ministers Mette Frederiksen and Sanna Marin had asked the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in writing to press the accelerator; today the EU executive has taken up the request and formally asked all EU governments to commit to vaccinating 70% of the adult population before the summer. This is a clear message in view of the meeting by video conference that the EU-27 have this Thursday with the covid as the only item on the agenda and in which they will also talk about the creation of a European vaccination certificate to which the Commission is favourable.

Brussels is calling for at least 80% of the population over 80 years old and 80% of health workers to have been vaccinated by March, and undertakes to make all its "potential" available to governments, as well as that of the European Medicines Agency. "We need to accelerate the vaccination campaign," said European Lifestyle Commissioner Margaritis Schinas. "These objectives are achievable," added Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. The executive admitted that at the start of the vaccination campaign not enough doses of the first vaccines to be authorised in the EU (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) had arrived. In addition, Pfizer had distribution problems and postponed the delivery of some doses to countries such as Spain.

Thus, the Commission is committed to making all the tools available to Member States to speed up the process, acting as an intermediary with the pharmaceutical companies and also with the joint tendering of the medical equipment needed for the campaign, but it does not specify much more about what the states have to do to speed up the process. Brussels detects considerable differences in the speed of vaccination between countries. In fact, according to data collected by the Bruegel think tank, Germany, Italy and Spain are the countries that have immunised the most people, but with population percentages below 1%.

Vaccination certificates, not passports

At the same time, the Commission has fully entered the debate on the creation of a vaccination certificate. The Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, also proposed this in a letter to Von der Leyen and, despite the fact that some governments have expressed disagreement, Brussels has decided to work on implementing it before the end of the month. As Schinas explained, the Commission considers that they must be European "medical" certificates, which are recognised by all Member States, but in no case "passports" that provide travel facilities or preferential access to certain services as Greece demanded. Some countries consider that it would be discriminatory for those citizens who have not yet had the opportunity to be vaccinated. According to Schinas, a sufficient percentage of the population must be vaccinated first.

The Commission's other major concern is that, in view of the new variants of the coronavirus which have so far proved to be more contagious than the first, European governments will once again close borders and restrict travel. Schinas said the travel bans or flight suspensions are "not justified" and are very "disruptive". Brussels has been against closing borders from the beginning of the pandemic because of the consequences for the Schengen area and the free movement of people, goods and services.

Lack of transparency

Although Brussels has been praised for the effort and speed in centralising the purchase and authorisation of covid vaccines, it has also been criticised for the lack of transparency in explaining the negotiations and conditions agreed with the pharmaceutical companies. Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides was also criticised by a number of MEPs on Tuesday. Only CureVac, one of the pharmaceutical companies with whom there is a pre-agreement to buy more than 200 million vaccines, has agreed to publish the contract and partially. Until now MEPs have been able to view it in a closed reading room without being able to take photographs.

Following the criticism, the Commission made it public but censured the parts that the company did not want to be made public, which are precisely those referring to the costs of financing and doses, the distribution schedule and possible compensation. In the section of the contract that can be read, it is clear that it is the governments that will have to pay compensation if there are problems with the use of the vaccine, but the key conditions are censored.

Socialist MEP Nicolás González Casares, who was able to consult the contract under the confidentiality conditions set by the Commission, was unhappy with the way Brussels finally made the text public, pointing out that it was only one of six contracts signed by the Commission. "The missing information is more important qualitatively than quantitatively and I imagine that if the other contracts are made public they will also be in the same vein," González Casares told ARA.

Ciudadanos MEP Soraya Rodríguez spoke in the same vein: "We do not even see a formalised contract, because the CureVac contract is a pre-contract with a company whose vaccine has not even been authorised," she told ARA. The two parliamentarians demand more transparency. "I am worried that we are talking about the opacity of the contracts, because this debate feeds denialist discourse and conspiracy theories," Rodriguez lamented.