The EU Wednesday proposed to build a “European Health Union” to protect European citizens from health risks and crises, including pandemics such as COVID-19. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced: “Our aim is to protect the health of all European citizens. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for more coordination in the EU, more resilient health systems, and better preparation for future crises.

“We are changing the way we address cross-border health threats. Today, we start building a European Health Union, to protect citizens with high quality care in a crisis, and equip the Union and its Member States to prevent and manage health emergencies that affect the whole of Europe,” she added.

According to the new proposal, the EU will further strengthen its preparedness against the pandemic.

“EU health crisis and pandemic preparedness plan and recommendations will be developed for the adoption of plans at national levels, coupled with comprehensive and transparent frameworks for reporting and auditing,” said the EU in a press release.

“The preparation of national plans would be supported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and other EU agencies. The plans would be audited and stress tested by the Commission and EU agencies,” it added.

The EU member states will also improve data sharing in areas such as hospital bed availability, specialized treatment, intensive care capacity, and number of medically trained staff.

“The declaration of an EU emergency situation would trigger increased coordination and allow for the development, stockpiling and procurement of crisis relevant products,” the EU said.

The EU Commission is also preparing to set out main elements of Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA) which will be presented by the end of 2021.

Contract for 200M vaccine doses approved

In a separate statement, the EU announced approval of a contract with the pharmaceutical companies BioNTech and Pfizer, which provides for the initial procurement of 200 million doses on behalf of all EU member states. In addition, the EU will have an option to further request 100 million more doses once the vaccine proves to be safe and effective against COVID-19.

“Member States can decide to donate the vaccine to lower and middle-income countries or to re-direct it to other European countries,” it added.

“With this fourth contract we are now consolidating an extremely solid vaccine candidate portfolio, most of them in advanced trials phase. Once authorised, they will be quickly deployed and bring us closer to a sustainable solution of the pandemic,” said von der Leyen in the statement.

“Today’s agreement follows the encouraging first indications from the clinical trial results and is further evidence of our commitment to putting more Europe in the area of health,” said Stella Kyriakides, the commissioner for health and food safety.

“It is a very telling example of what the EU can achieve when working together, as a Union, and a case in point of what a future European Health Union will be able to deliver,” she added.

The US and German pharmaceutical giants announced Monday that their vaccine candidate is 90% effective against COVID-19.

The companies said they will submit the vaccine candidate to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization by the third week of this month.

The 27-member bloc has also signed supply deals with AstraZeneca, Sanofi, and Johnson & Johnson for their potential COVID-19 shots.

There are currently more than 100 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 around the world but none has been approved yet for general use.

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