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COVID-19 in the European Union

Article discussing the European Union strategy to respond to COVID-19
Illustrative image of a COVID-19 vaccine vial in front of a syringe. On the background there is an image of a SARS-CoV-2 viral particle
© COG-Train

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the European Union (EU) has worked with its member states to protect the health and well-being of EU citizens. Nevertheless, EU institutions have limited authority in the health system of each member state, as, instead, their primary role is to make recommendations and coordinate joint action.

In March 2020, four priorities to guide the EU’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic were determined. These included:

  • Limiting the spread of the virus
  • Ensuring the provision of medical equipment, particularly masks and respirators
  • Promoting research for treatments and vaccines
  • Tackling the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic

In order to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the EU’s external borders were temporarily closed and non-essential travel to the EU was restricted.

To meet the need for emergency medical equipment, in March 2020, the EU created a reserve of medical equipment which could be quickly mobilised in emergencies. At the same time, the EU enabled its member states to participate in joint public procurement tenders for protective gear, ventilators and testing kits. The EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) then, via its EU Civil Protection Mechanism, processed requests and coordinated the distribution of equipment and support to the countries which needed it most. The EU has also coordinated with European industry to increase production, and has regulated the export of key supplies from the EU to third countries.

Furthermore, to promote research for treatments and vaccines, research funds and financial support were deployed to develop treatments and vaccines. The European COVID-19 Data Platform was launched to enable the rapid collection and sharing of available research data.

The EU Vaccines Strategy

The development and distribution of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 represented a cornerstone of the EU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU Vaccines Strategy was presented on 17 June 2020 to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19. The EU coordinated a joint effort to secure the production and delivery of a sufficient quantity of vaccines to its member states, who received the vaccines under the same conditions and at the same time. The COVID-19 vaccination campaigns started on 27 December 2020 across the Union. By December 2022, eight out of ten adults in the EU population (82%) were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The European Medicines Agency has so far authorised seven COVID-19 vaccines for use within the EU.

Global cooperation

On 4 May 2020, the Coronavirus Global Response Initiative was launched, following the global call for action launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 24 April 2020. This initiative aimed to make COVID-19 treatment, tests and vaccines available worldwide. Despite the name, the Coronavirus Global Response also has the broader aims of strengthening health systems everywhere and supporting economic recovery in the world’s most fragile regions and communities.

On 18 September 2020, the European Commission confirmed its participation in the COVAX Facility for equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. Team Europe (formed by the EU and its member states) is one of the lead donors of COVAX.

Pandemic preparedness

The European Commission established the Health Emergency and Response Authority (HERA) to tackle all areas of health preparedness, including detection, prevention, research, international cooperation, response, investment, and the fight against disinformation.

In December 2022, HERA and WHO launched a new partnership to boost capacities at national, regional, and global levels for better preparedness for and response to health emergencies. Within this partnership, HERA will fund four global initiatives:

  • Supporting the scaling up of national capacities for SARS-CoV-2 and emerging pathogens detection, including genomic surveillance in Africa
  • The COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to ensure a successful global effort to develop and facilitate access to technologies to fight COVID-19
  • Epidemic and pandemic intelligence, including access to and sharing of data and analytics through the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Preparedness
  • Research to address antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

Through this programme, HERA and WHO will strengthen global capacities to detect, prevent, and respond to global health threats by providing information, capacities, and tools against health emergencies.

References

The EU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

5 ways the EU and member states work together against COVID-19

EU Vaccines Strategy

COVID-19: research and vaccines

The European Union and WHO further enhance their partnership for stronger pandemic preparedness and response

© COG-Train
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