By Stella Kyriakides
Vaccination is picking up the pace across the EU with the numbers increasing by the day. Last week we saw the largest deliveries of safe and effective vaccines so far reaching our Member States – more than 34 million doses. Over 30 per cent of our adult population has now received a first dose. And as we continue to step up our manufacturing capacity and increase the vaccine rollout, we can look ahead with more optimism and hope. We are on track to vaccinate 70 per cent of our adult population in July.
While the development and rollout of safe and effective vaccines has been at the forefront of our response to Covid-19, they cannot be our only line of defence. Vaccinations are a life-saving game changer, but they will not end the pandemic from one day to another. This virus will continue to be with us, and those infected will continue to need treatment, whether in hospitals or at home. This is not only of particular importance with the multiplication of new variants, but also in view of a growing number of patients experiencing severe and long term-effects, sometimes requiring care weeks or months following their infection.
This is why, alongside vaccination, we must do our utmost to protect our citizens from Covid-19 and to better treat and cure it. Therapeutics have a crucial role to play – they can speed up recovery, reduce hospital stays and save lives. Therapeutics not only help our citizens to better fight the virus, but also ease pressure on our stretched health systems. We need to step up our game to develop breakthrough medicines and identify the most promising therapeutics.
To join our forces to accelerate the development, manufacture and supply, we are launching a new EU Strategy for Covid-19 therapeutics. Research is ongoing, and whilst dozens of projects are taking place in the EU and around the world, we have so far one authorised Covid-19 medicine in the EU. With our Strategy, our aim will be to make sure that, by October, we develop and authorise three new effective Covid-19 therapeutics that can have the potential to change the course of Covid-19.
This is ambitious, but it is feasible – and it is necessary. If we have learned anything over the course of the past year, it is that working together across the EU is the only way to achieve real results and to make a change for our citizens. The strength of our strategy will lie in coordination and joint action, from research, development, manufacturing, approval and deployment all the way to the final use of medicines.
As a first step, we will ensure that we support research and the development of the most promising therapeutics. We will also mobilise investments from the EU budget for flexible manufacturing capacities to ensure that Covid-19 therapeutics are produced in sufficient quantity as soon as they are authorised. The next step will be to identify five the most promising therapeutics candidates that can help treat against Covid-19 – both in its current and mutated forms. The scientific expertise of the European Medicines Agency will be mobilised at every step of the way as we step up the mapping of promising Covid-19 medicines. In parallel to developing and bringing new therapeutics to the market, we need to make sure Member States have access to them as swiftly as possibly by pooling our negotiating power and ensure equity of access. We stand ready to support Member States to procure at least three new authorised therapeutics by the end of 2021. Ensure that medicines reach citizens across the EU as quickly and as fairly as possible requires collaboration and working as a team.
Our new actions in the field of therapeutics are a prime example of the value that our future European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority will bring. By being able to foresee emerging threats, having the essential medical resources and procedures in place to activate crisis mechanisms quickly, and having strong and resilient health systems and supply chains to be able to cope with the pressures of pandemics, we can fill the gaps in our preparedness for future health crises. When time is of the essence, it is vital to be ahead of the curve.
The EU Covid-19 Therapeutics Strategy also marks yet another step towards the goal of getting our lives, economies and societies back on track. It is also part of a strong and true European Health Union, in which all EU countries prepare and respond together to health crises and ensure the availability of affordable and innovative medical supplies – including the therapeutics needed for the fight against Covid-19.
Stella Kyriakides is the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety