EU calls for a global alliance to buy COVID-19 vaccines upfront

FILE PHOTO: Scientists are seen working at Cobra Biologics, they are working on a potential vaccine for COVID-19, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Keele, Britain, April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Carl Recine

The European Commission called on Wednesday for global leaders to cooperate to buy bulk quantities of potential COVID-19 vaccines, to avoid “harmful competition” in the race for a shot and ensure any future vaccine is available for poor countries.

With around a dozen potential vaccines now in human trials, rich countries have been rushing to buy up doses in advance from pharmaceutical companies, to make sure they will have enough supply should any prove successful.

The European Commission, the EU executive arm, is worried that such competition could raise the prices of vaccines for everyone, and also leave many countries, mostly poor ones, struggling to obtain a supply.

“When it comes to fighting a global pandemic, there is no place for ‘me first’,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

The EU is planning to spend around 2 billion euros (1.83 billion pounds) on the advance purchase of vaccines in testing on behalf of the 27 EU states.

EU countries are also pursuing their own initiatives, with Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands making a joint deal last week with drugmaker AstraZeneca to buy upfront its vaccine under development.

Washington has so far made clear it is prioritising its own citizens for COVID-19 vaccines.

Von der Leyen said she is trying to convince “a significant number” of world leaders to join forces and buy vaccines upfront together.

The EU is co-hosting a global virtual summit on vaccine strategy next week, at the end of a fund-raising campaign to secure funds to distribute potential coronavirus shots to poor countries.

AstraZeneca, France’s Sanofi, and U.S. firms Pfizer, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna are among companies trialling vaccines against the coronavirus.