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Toward vaccine cooperation and vaccine multilateralism


This opinion article was published in The Jakarta Post and Republika


Toward vaccine cooperation and vaccine multilateralism

By Vincent Piket

European Union Ambassador to Indonesia


At the start of this new year, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a hard reality for the entire global community. We are seeing a rise in numbers of infections across the European Union (EU) and Asia; likewise there is a rise in deaths. Also, the emergence of new variants of the virus is of serious concern.

Yet, there are reasons for cautious optimism. Thanks to the innovation and ingenuity by scientists, several vaccines are now being deployed globally. On 3 February, the number of vaccines administered exceeded the total number of confirmed cases. The end of the pandemic could be in sight. We now need to bring it within reach.

As vaccinations start being rolled out, new, relevant questions emerge: are vaccines being distributed equitably? Will rich countries receive more doses than less affluent ones? How can we improve international collaboration that leads to access for all, not only for the select few?

For the EU, the answer is clear: no one is safe until everyone is safe. No region, no country, and no group of people should be at a disadvantage or indeed precluded from having a fair, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines that are safe to use and provide necessary levels of quality control standards and protection.

Any other outcome would create a situation that is both morally unjustifiable and provides fertile grounds for the emergence of new strains. Our efforts to mitigate the pandemic call for cooperation and ensuring that no one is left behind.

This is why the EU emerged as the world’s strongest supporter of the COVAX Facility, the global initiative that engages 90% of the world’s population and aims to ensure fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all.

Team Europe, composed of the EU and our Member States, has thus far pledged more that €850 million (US$1 billion) to purchase, secure and deliver vaccines to low and middle-income countries through the COVAX Facility. The EU’s pledge is half of the total amount pledged for COVAX by the international community, making the EU COVAX’s biggest contributor.

The initial tangible results of this initiative are already here. On 22 January, COVAX announced the signing of an advance purchase agreement of up to 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved by the WHO for emergency use. First deliveries of vaccines subsidised by COVAX will commence in Southeast Asia and around the world in the very near future. To start with, Indonesia is expected to receive free vaccines up to 23 million doses from the COVAX facility.

Once fully funded, the COVAX Facility will allow 92 lower and middle-income countries, as part of a collective effort, to secure 1.3 billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021, covering the most vulnerable part of these countries’ populations. Despite the current worldwide shortage of supplies, up to 100 million doses are expected to be delivered in the first quarter of this year globally.

By the end of 2021, two billion doses will be available for delivery under COVAX; by end 2022 this will rise to three billion. It is encouraging to hear that one half of this target has already been contracted with pharmaceutical companies.

One important tool for vaccine development has been the EU’s Advance Purchase Agreements with different pharmaceutical companies for 2.3 billion vaccines. These Advance Purchase Agreements gave the pharmaceutical companies the means to invest rapidly in vaccine research and development during 2020. Importantly, the European Commission has proposed to distribute to developing countries the purchased vaccines for which the EU has no immediate need.

At the same time, we have noted a lack of transparency in the ways some companies were operating. For this reason, the European Commission recently adopted a targeted and temporary surveillance measure for vaccine exports from the European Union until 31 March 2021. This scheme enables customs authorities to check vaccine exports declarations and only applies to exports from companies with whom the EU has concluded Advance Purchased Agreements. To note, all vaccine deliveries to the 92 low and middle-income countries covered by the COVAX facility, including Indonesia, are exempt from the prior export authorisation. The same applies to exports to around 25 neighbouring countries of the EU. Also exempt are vaccine supplies that form part of humanitarian operations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge. We can only address it effectively if we work together, in unity and solidarity. For that reason, besides vaccines, the EU and its Member States, are helping partner countries with €38 billion globally to strengthen their healthcare, water and sanitation systems, development of a fast and equitable access to safe, quality, effective and affordable tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus.

Within that global amount, our assistance to the ASEAN countries amounts to over €800 million. At the region-to-region level, moreover, the EU and ASEAN are exchanging experiences and best practices on regional responses to the crisis. In December 2020, the EU and ASEAN held the first expert dialogue on COVID-19 vaccines. We are currently planning a second meeting.

Our Team Europe support to Indonesia amounts to €200 million. This includes funding of projects by civil society organisations for vulnerable groups, and a combined grant-loan projects for the refurbishment of two hospitals in East Java and South Sulawesi, with loan finance from the development banks of France and Germany.

This is what the EU stands for. We stand for vaccine cooperation and vaccine multilateralism; and we resolutely oppose the waving of vaccine promises in return for political favours.

After the hard year of 2020, this year should be a time to heal and rebuild. We can only do so if we base our actions on science, our cooperation on a genuine sense of purpose and make sure to leave no one behind.

This is the true spirit of the EU’s global policy and indeed of the EU-Indonesia partnership.