The meeting of EU prime ministers and heads of state held virtually on February 27-28 concentrated primarily on combating the coronavirus.
What is the Council’s estimation of when will Europe have enough vaccines?
No specific date was suggested. Everyone expressed their concern regarding this issue.
The question being asked is what kind of efforts are needed and what can the European Commission do to ensure smooth vaccine deliveries. The main focus was on how to make sure vaccine manufacturers honor their obligations in front of the EU – what are the bottlenecks and what is needed to ramp up manufacturing.
For example, the European Commission can bring pharmaceutical companies together and facilitate sharing of components.
We also discussed what the committee can do to eliminate bottlenecks in supply chains in terms of vaccines and production and ensure availability of materials.
Which seems the more acute bottleneck: insufficient production capacity or the fact companies have sold the first batches elsewhere for greater profit?
There was talk of a vaccines war. For example, the U.S. and UK are using export bans where vaccines manufactured locally can only be used in those countries. Some leaders asked why the EU is not following suit by using European vaccines only in Europe.
But larger countries that feel responsible for the entire world say that it is a global problem and it is important to make sure manufacturers fulfill promises made to Europe and other countries. A war for vaccines ends up benefiting no one.
That said, [insufficient] production capacity is causing supply problems, while suspicions of better deals having been made are also in the air.
It has been suggested that the EU should pursue its own vaccine diplomacy. How many Europeans need to be vaccinated before the EU can start giving vaccines away?
Everyone agreed that the European Union is also responsible for the rest of the world. It is a common interest to defeat this pandemic. This means vaccinating developing countries to a sufficient degree. And because the latter lack the necessary resources, wealthier countries should use their vaccines to help.
That said, most found that giving away vaccines would be very difficult to explain to voters in the conditions of acute shortages inside Europe. Most countries have vaccinated fewer than 10 percent of people, while it is just 3-4 percent for many.
Has Estonia considered whom to gift vaccines should the opportunity present itself? Have requests been made?
There have been inquiries. I emphasized that everyone has foreign friends they would like to support. I talked about Georgia, Ukraine and Eastern Partnership countries of course. Others feel closer to African countries.
The general idea is that vaccines could be made available through the COVAX program (a global initiative of giving poorer countries access to coronavirus diagnostics, treatment and vaccines – ed.) that is being put into practice. But we have also been approached directly.
Why are vaccination passports problematic? What is the issue?
One major item of contention is whether people who have antibodies, have recovered from COVID-19 or been vaccinated should have advantages when traveling. Several countries have restrictions in place for travelers from other states, require test results etc.
Estonia and the World Health Organization are working on a test project for a global trust network for vaccination. It was the position of the Council that while the project is worthwhile, it is not a matter for the next few months as availability of vaccines takes precedence. However, there will be other pandemics like this one, which is when we will need to exchange information on who is a threat so to speak and who is not.