Make no mistake, the race to produce vaccines between the continents and the great powers goes well beyond the fight against the pandemic. The issue of health power is a new form of diplomacy and, in this game, China is today the leading power, ahead of Europe. Things are not set in stone. According to Commissioner Thierry Breton, “the European Union should become the leading producer of vaccines during the summer”.
The current figures are as follows: China produced 875 million doses and exported 256 million. Europe produced 654 million doses and exported 329 million worldwide (around 90 countries). The United States produced 438 million doses, but refused to export for a very long time. They are just getting started (less than 10 million doses). India, which passed for the great pharmacy of the world, only managed to produce 292 million doses and export 66 million. Russia, with huge promises, in reality only has low capacities: 45 million doses produced and 15 million exported. The UK produced 33 million doses and refused all exports. London imported around 70% of the vaccines needed by its population.
Towards a European BARDA
“It takes between 10 months and a year for vaccine production to reach maturity,” said Commissioner Breton, who announced that on July 15, the EU will have, at that time, produced a billion doses. In the second half of the year, we will be able to deliver one billion doses to the Member States, which means more than enough to support the injection of a third dose if the variants require it. ”
This colossal industrial effort is carried out by the 55 factories located on the territory of the EU and which produce either the substances for the vaccines or the final packaging (” fill and finish “). A complex process since a vaccine combines between 300 and 500 components. The merit is not only European, as Commissioner Breton recognizes. “Of the 5 vaccines that we have recognized, 4 were invented and set up by European researchers and scientists and it is true, then, accelerated by American money which came from BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) and which made it possible, in particular, to speed up very expensive clinical trials. Hence the idea, to counter the risks of a future pandemic, of creating a European BARDA. This is one of the reasons which led the Commission to launch the HERA incubator.
France manages to cross the 700,000 injections per day
The rate of vaccinations in Europe now reaches 3 to 4 million injections per day. France had a very good week with 4 million injections (May 31 / June 5), or 573,400 per day (including Sunday, June 6 at 191,000). The peak was reached on Friday June 4 with 748,000 injections. Monday June 7, France displays 565,000 vaccinations (against 526,861 the previous Monday). “At this rate, the EU is able to achieve vaccination of 70% of the adult population by mid-July,” said Commissioner Breton.
The European Parliament will debate this week in Strasbourg on the best strategy to achieve immunization for the whole world. European political parties are divided on the means to achieve this. On the left and among environmentalists, we favor the lifting of patents.
The Commission defends the principle of “compulsory licenses” at the WTO
On the right, at the EPP, we defend intellectual property while calling for price moderation for low-income countries. “The lifting of patents is a long and complex process. What we need to do is send aid to poor countries now, ”said Dacian Ciolos, president of the Renew group (liberal and macronist). “The lifting of patents is a false good idea, contests for the curators of the ECR Geert Bourgeois. No one has succeeded in demonstrating that the lifting of patents can lead to increased production and vaccination. The production of vaccines is a very complex process; production, quality controls will take months and could not improve the situation in 2021. The solution is linked to a considerable increase in our production and it seems that this is happening. ”
In any case, the European Parliament is not competent in the matter. The discussion is taking place within the WTO. The European Commission sits at the WTO and defends a position of its own, which was expressed by Commissioner Dombrovskis. For the Commission, the solution is to lift restrictions on the export of vaccines and their components. The message is therefore addressed to Joe Biden, late in a war on this level. Then, the Commission insists on focusing the effort on increasing production while ensuring that the costs are not exorbitant for the less rich countries.
On intellectual property, the Commission is pushing the WTO to implement the principle of “compulsory licenses”, a device provided for in the texts of the World Trade Organization (Doha declaration, article 31 f). “Compulsory licensing occurs when the government authorizes a third party to manufacture the patented product or use the patented process without the consent of the patent holder. In the current public debate, it is usually pharmaceutical products that are targeted, but the formula can also be applied to patents in any other field ”, one can read on the site of the WTO. Compulsory licensing is provided for in “national emergency situations” or anti-competitive practices. But “in any case, we must consider the remuneration of right holders,” Valdis Dombrovskis told the European Parliament.