The European Commission has signed contracts with Pfizer’s plants in Ireland and various European companies to secure capacity for producing up to €325m worth of vaccines per year in the event of a future global health crisis. This agreement encompasses mRNA, vector-based, and protein-based vaccines and is separate from existing COVID-19 vaccine agreements between the EU and vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer. The European Commission emphasized the need for Europe to be better prepared for future health emergencies, citing the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The deal aims to ensure that companies are well-equipped to respond swiftly to a crisis by maintaining updated facilities and monitoring their supply chains. It also includes provisions for stockpiling, if necessary. In the event of a new public health emergency, the contracted companies would be able to rapidly initiate vaccine production. However, vaccine equity activists have expressed concerns, warning that the EU risks perpetuating the inequalities witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance co-lead, Mohga Kamal-Yanni, criticized the EU and pharmaceutical companies for potentially repeating what the World Health Organization referred to as “vaccine apartheid” during the COVID-19 crisis. Kamal-Yanni stated, “After a pandemic in which developing countries were sent to the back of the queue for vaccines and treatments, the EU and pharmaceutical companies seem to be planning to do it all over again in the next health crisis.”
Under the contract, Pfizer’s plants in Ireland and Belgium have been selected to reserve capacity for producing mRNA vaccines. Spanish companies Reig Jofre and Laboratorios Hipra have been chosen for protein-based vaccines, while Bilthoven Biologicals of the Netherlands will reserve capacity for vector-based vaccines. At the time of reporting, none of the companies had provided a comment in response to the announcement.
The World Health Organization has urged governments and manufacturers to set aside up to 20% of tests, vaccines, or treatments for global distribution in poorer countries, in order to prevent a repeat of the “catastrophic failure” witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This recommendation is part of a draft global pandemic agreement that is currently under discussion.