EU eyes cheap Covid-19 vaccines

The Union is in talks with drugmakers for shots cheaper than $40

The EU is not interested in buying potential COVID-19 vaccines through an initiative co-led by the World Health Organisation (WTO) as it is slow and high-cost, two EU sources told Reuters, noting the bloc was in talks with drugmakers for shots cheaper than $40. The position shows the EU has only partly embraced a global approach in the race for Covid-19 vaccines as it prefers prioritising supplies for the EU citizens.

It could also deal a blow to the WHO-led COVAX initiative to secure vaccines for all. “Using COVAX would lead to higher prices and later supplies,” one of the two officials said. The WHO and GAVI, a public-private partnership that co-leads the COVAX initiative, had no immediate comment. 

A COVAX mechanism meant to buy vaccines in advance is targeting a $40 price for shots in wealthy countries, the official said, adding the EU could buy at cheaper prices with its own scheme for upfront purchases. The Union is currently in talks with several drugmakers to secure in advance their potential vaccines against the coronavirus, officials told Reuters last week. 

These possible deals would be financed with about €2bn from an EU rainy-day fund known as Emergency Support Instrument (ESI), officials said. The EU also wants to secure vaccines by the end of the year, should they be available. This timetable “is not feasible” for COVAX, one official said.

The Commission has advised EU states to join COVAX if they wish, but not for buying vaccines, the official said. An official said joining the two initiatives may not be legally feasible, as EU states have accepted an exclusivity clause when they backed the EU advance purchase scheme. Some EU states have expressed interest in joining COVAX but have not yet signed up.

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