Covid vaccination: EU at the ready

The European Medicines Agency is due to reach a decision on approving the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine today. Once the agency has given the green light, the necessary approval by the EU Commission is considered certain and an EU-wide vaccination campaign could start before the end of the year. Commentators ask what Europe has learned on the long road to vaccine approval.

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La Repubblica (IT) /

Double victory or total defeat

Europe must join forces now, editor-in-chief Maurio Molinari urges in La Repubblica:

“The European Union is facing an epoch-making challenge. Hundreds of millions of people are to be vaccinated against Covid-19 within six to seven months. ... If we succeed in this endeavor, the spread of the virus will be contained and economic reconstruction in the individual states can be accelerated. And Europe will emerge stronger from the situation through a joint strategy. But if we fail, we'll face a domino effect of negative consequences from the healthcare sector to the economy. For everyone.”

Baricada (RO) /

Pharmaceutical industry should be publicly owned

The development of Covid-19 vaccines holds valuable lessons for the future, Marxist economist Michael Roberts writes in Baricada:

“[A] few billion dollars a year spent on additional basic research could prevent a thousand times as much loss in death, illness, and economic destruction. ... What better lesson can we learn from the COVID vaccine experience than that the multinational pharma companies should be publicly owned so that research and development can be directed to meet the health and medical needs of people rather than to the profits of these companies. Then the necessary vaccines can get to the billions in the poorest countries and circumstances rather than to just those countries and people who can afford to pay the prices set by these companies.”

Kurier (AT) /

The bureaucratic path pays off

The EU's bureaucracy is invalidating a decisive argument put forward by vaccination sceptics, Kurier notes:

“In contrast to the UK, the path of emergency approval has been renounced and instead a hurdle-free, normal path via the authorities has been taken. This demonstrates a level-headed ability to act and also has tangible consequences for the drug manufacturers: in the event of problems, they are fully liable. It cannot be assumed that listed companies such as Pfizer will have any interest in cheating and pushing a half-finished vaccine through various strict review procedures only to go bankrupt due to unforeseen consequences.”

Etelä-Saimaa (FI) /

Not the time to shirk responsibility

We must be careful not to neglect precautionary measures, Etelä-Saimaa warns:

“The first vaccine shipment will be small. Initially, only the key people in the healthcare system, those who care for coronavirus patients, will be vaccinated. ... We can't breathe a sigh of relief yet, even if we look forward to the positive news. Until the vaccinations have started on a large scale, the current rules of conduct cannot be compromised. The fight against the disease remains the responsibility of each individual: hand hygiene, mouth and nose protection, social distancing and working from home if possible are still decisive measures for avoiding infection.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

EMA's approach more sustainable and fair

The daily paper taz defends the European Medicines Agency EMA against accusations that its procedures are too slow and bureaucratic:

“The EMA is breaking new ground. It is the first authority worldwide to issue a 'conditional' approval. This means that the vaccine will be subject to regular review, for which Biontech/Pfizer will have to provide extensive data on their test results. The US and the UK, on the other hand, have granted emergency approvals and been less thorough in their scrutiny of the vaccine. This not only poses risks to patients, but in the long run it could torpedo the success of the vaccination campaign. ... It is to the EU's credit that it has put the brakes on the coronanationalism of its member states. The vaccines are to be distributed fairly among all EU states - and everyone will start vaccinating at the same time. This is also what the EMA stands for: a united Europe.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Italian bureaucracy can't keep up

Faster approval by the EMA won't do the Italians any good, columnist Luigi La Spina complains in La Stampa:

“The official applause from our government barely conceals its fearful shudder. Because the institution responsible for distributing the drug had planned to begin the vaccinations in mid-January. Now it is at risk of being ill prepared for the early start. This confirms national and international prejudices about the Italians: creative, yes, but always late and chaotic. But this isn't because of our genes, or the sun, the sea and the mandolins. ... Italy's problem, perhaps the most serious and difficult to solve, lies in the intertwining of politics and bureaucracy, two seemingly great forces that in reality bring together two great weaknesses.”

Dnevnik (BG) /

Quick doesn't mean premature

The argument that vaccine was developed too quickly and that vaccination is therefore too risky has no substance, Dnevnik puts in:

“People need to know that these vaccines, no matter how avant-garde they may seem, have not been under research just since yesterday. RNA vaccines have been in the pipeline for 30 years. Moreover, the teams developing them have experience with using this type of vaccine against other diseases, including Sars and Mers. So science is simply doing the important job of responding quickly in an extreme situation. Therefore the speed with which vaccines were developed should not worry us.”

Karar (TR) /

Which vaccine will Erdoğan use?

Turkey has opted for the Chinese vaccine Coronavac, but the population is extremely wary, and President Erdoğan publicly having himself vaccinated with it won't change that, columnist Elif Çakır points out in Karar:

“If Erdoğan and his AKP entourage actually get vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine, will this convince the general public? And will they not have a hard time convincing even the party base that they actually used the Chinese vaccine? ... That's the real question and the real problem the AKP government faces! Once trust has been lost, it's not so easy to restore it. ... The AKP has gambled away the trust of a large part of society - and not only regarding vaccination.”

Der Standard (AT) /

No time to lose

Bureaucracy can be the only reason why the EU is taking longer than Britain for an initial approval, Der Standard suspects:

“From today's perspective, the British officials' approach seems to be the right one and the slower approach of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) a mistake. ... The Union is losing more than a month in the battle against Covid compared to the Brexit state. No new findings regarding the vaccine are to be expected in this time. Any gaps in its effectiveness or long-term side-effects will only become apparent later. The EMA's timetable is not driven by extra caution but by the laws of bureaucracy. In normal times this might be understandable, but not in the middle of a catastrophic pandemic.”

NZZ am Sonntag (CH) /

Trust EU experts

The NZZ am Sonntag finds Switzerland's behaviour superfluous:

“Instead of relying on EU expertise, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products is testing the vaccines separately. Safety first, of course, but if there was ever a time when speed was decisive it's now. In a pandemic, every day costs lives. ... The politicians would therefore be well advised to dispense with separate testing in a pandemic. And perhaps this model is fundamentally outdated. After all, the Swiss government routinely adopts EU regulations for food products. What are the arguments against doing the same for medicines? ... Do we really need an authority of our own in Berne that deals with the very same dossiers as the 800 EU specialists in Amsterdam?”

Nowaja Gaseta (RU) /

Still a long way off in Russia

Russia's pharmaceutical industry lacks the capacity to produce its own vaccine in the quantities required for mass vaccination, complains Novaya Gazeta.

“The [Moscow-based] Gamaleya Institute has, according to indirect data, developed a quite decent vaccine whose scientific design is in no way inferior to that of Oxford. But this vaccine is falling victim to Russia's general technological decline. The only place where the explanations about the start of mass vaccination sound convincing is on Channel One [of Russia's state television network], alongside other major stories like the Germans having poisoned Navalny themselves. Among realists, they can only trigger nervous giggles. It seems that our Sputnik vaccine will not take off until it is cooked in an Indian reactor.”

To Vima (GR) /

Tremendous geopolitical importance

For To Vima the race against Covid has become part of the global power struggle:

“Will the vaccine become a parameter that will determine developments in the post-Covid world? ... The fact that Hungary, for instance, is blocking the EU budget and saying that it prefers the Russian vaccine is no doubt not irrelevant. The coming weeks will probably provided the first indications of what tomorrow's balance of power will look like. ... Whoever ends up 'saving the world', be they a representative of the liberal West or a totalitarian regime, will gain great influence and be able to call the shots on many issues in the near future.”