At the present time, Europe is going through a phase of the pandemic that was referred to as a ‘ceasefire’ by World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge. He made the comments at the Geneva Health Forum where he also concluded that the current landscape is “quiet, and we have to take advantage of this.”
This line of thinking is being echoed across Europe, with the European Commission (EC) publishing a proposed set of action in April for member states to sustain preparedness for further waves of COVID-19.
Contained within the list of recommendations was to step up vaccination and boosting, develop robust surveillance systems for the identification of cases, as well as testing and sequencing to determine variant circulation and the detection of new variants.
EC Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, stated as part of the announcement: “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of readily available vaccine production capacity in times of crisis.”
The expectation is that later this year, the number of cases will rise again and the EC noted that it would be taking action to ensure a resilient supply chain deeper into the pandemic.
Securing the supply chain
A major element of the early parts of the pandemic was a crisis over supply, which led to countries competing with one another globally to ensure adequate supply of vaccines and treatments. The EC came under particular criticism for what was a deemed a slow response to securing supply for member states and then later for negotiating supply deals in secrecy.
The EC’s statement on action to monitor the supply chain of treatments and vaccines recently came to light when it announced a list of critical medicines for COVID-19, which it published early this month.
As a result of being added to the list, the EC stated that each product on the list would have their supply and demand ‘closely monitored’ to manage and prevent potential or actual shortages.
The process will be managed by the EC’s executive steering group on shortages and safety medicinal products (MSSG), which will receive communication from member states on estimated demand for critical medicines at a national level. The MSSG will then take this information to the EC and coordinate action to ensure that supply disruption does not occur across the European Union.
For their part, marketing authorisation holders of medicines on the list are required to regularly update the European Medicines Agency with relevant information, including data on potential or actual shortages and available stocks, alongside forecasts of supply and demand.
However, some individual member states have chosen to reserve vaccine manufacturing capacity against the current pandemic and against potential future pandemics by themselves rather than rely on EC action. The German government signed an annual standby to reserve domestic mRNA vaccine manufacturing capacity with CureVac and GSK, with the deal running all the way up to 2029.