EU leaders: Limiting non-essential travel, hastening up immunisation

They demanded more predictability and transparency from the pharmaceutical companies

Photo: EU Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at the news conference.

After a five-hour video conference on Thursday, EU leaders remain determined to maintain tight restrictions while stepping up efforts to accelerate the provision of Covid-19 vaccines and to prepare for a tough fight with the variants of the virus.

On vaccines and vaccination, I have a message of truth and hope, stressed European Council President Charles Michel at a news conference that he gave together with EC President Ursula von der Leyen following the meeting.

He underlined that the next weeks will remain difficult, “but today we also recognised the EU has the resources and capacities to get out of this crisis”.

The European Council President also emphasised that the first priority for Europe is speeding up the production and delivery of Covid-19 vaccines and vaccinations across the EU, including working with industry to scale up production. “And we want more predictability and transparency from pharmaceutical companies,” Charles Michel urged.

Saying that the measures in place across Europe are working, von der Leyen summed up that so far 50 million doses of vaccines have been delivered in the EU. She explained that it is approximately 6.4% of the whole population, and if you subtract children and teenager, it is 8% of the adult population. “Work is ongoing to tackle new variants and our efforts will pay off,” she said as well.

During the discussion the EU leaders agreed that for the time being non-essential travel needs to be restricted, but also referred the two Council recommendations on travel within, and into, the EU, according to which restrictions can be introduced in accordance with the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination and taking into account the specific situation of cross-border communities. The flow of goods and services within the Single Market must be ensured, including by making use of ‘green lanes’.

These days, the Commission has also taken seriously the cases of excessive rules that have been introduced, often contradictory and hampering the normal functioning of the single market and sent letters to Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden. They are currently applying stricter measures than provided in the jointly agreed recommendations and in particular this concerns bans on entering or leaving the country. The executive expects these countries until next week to reply, as the aim of the Commission is to find solution as soon as possible without having to revert towards legal steps.

The presidents and prime ministers of the EU27 highlighted the need to urgently accelerate the authorisation, production and distribution of vaccines, and respectively vaccination.

“We also need to enhance our surveillance and detection capacity in order to identify variants as early as possible so as to control their spread, as set out in the Commission Communication on the ‘HERA Incubator: Anticipating together the threat of COVID-19 variants’. We support the additional efforts by the Commission to work with industry and Member States to increase the capacity of current vaccine production as well as to adjust vaccines to the new variants as necessary,” their statement read.

They commended the Commission’s ongoing efforts to accelerate the availability of raw materials, facilitate agreements between manufacturers across supply chains, scope existing facilities so as to help production scale-up in the EU and further the research and development efforts. Companies must ensure predictability of their vaccine production and respect contractual delivery deadlines. 

Vaccination certificates, as one of the hot topics, was on the table as well and the leaders will continue to work on a common approach about introduction of such documents.

“There are still a number of open questions, political questions and the first one is what these certificates will be used for. But there are also scientific questions that are still open. It is still unclear whether you can transmit the disease, even if you are vaccinated,” von der Leyen commented.

The leaders expressed their commitment to improving access to vaccines for priority groups in EU’s neighbourhood and welcomed COVAX’s first plans to distribute vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries.

EU leaders pledged to improve EU coordination, as to ensure better prevention, preparedness for and response to future health emergencies.


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