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EU signs deal to secure BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine

November 11, 2020

The EU has greenlit a deal with the US and German firms to secure 300 million doses of their coronavirus vaccine for the bloc. Deliveries are expected to start by the end of this year.

A nurse prepares a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine
Image: H. Pennink/AP Photo/picture-alliance

The European Commission approved a contract with German pharmaceutical firm BioNTech and their US partner Pfizer on Wednesday, guaranteeing that the bloc with receive millions of doses of their experimental coronavirus vaccine.

After locking down the details of the deal on Tuesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc hopes to "deploy it quickly, everywhere in Europe."

Under the deal, the 27-member bloc will receive up to 300 million doses of the vaccine. German officials have said they expect to roll it out within the first three months of 2021.

The European Commission already approved three other deals with pharmaceutical companies working on COVID-19 vaccines which would allow the bloc to buy nearly one billion doses of potential vaccines to come.

EU expects doses at same time as US

Peter Liese, Coordinator of the European Parliament's Committee on Public Health, acknowledged that negotiations with the pharmaceutical firms took longer than with other countries, but said it was necessary to ensure the best deal for the EU.

The companies "need to respect European law […] and that's why it took a while," he told DW. "But now the deal is done."

Despite signing a deal only after the US and UK, Liese said the European Union won't be in the back of the line when it comes to receiving vaccine doses.

"It will be delivered at the same time to every partner that has signed the deal," he said, noting as well that the vaccine is being produced "mainly in Germany."

Securing vaccine rollout in the EU

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Tuesday the vaccine is likely to be ready in the first quarter of 2021 and hopes to secure 100 million doses for Germany.

Spahn, who contracted COVID-19 himself in late October, said it's important that Germany and the rest of the EU don't fall behind in the vaccine rollout.

"We of course couldn't explain to Europeans and especially to Germans if a vaccine would be available and [distributed] in the USA or in other regions in the world, but not in Germany and Europe."

Spahn emphasized that the European Commission had the mandate to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies — not individual states.

France, Germany, Spain and others in the 27-member bloc "absolutely" would have been able to secure national contracts, Spahn said. "The question is, whether that would have reflected our understanding of European solidarity."

What is the latest on the vaccine?

On Monday, German company BioNTech and US firm Pfizer said their jointly-produced vaccine was 90% effective at preventing COVID-19. The announcement is a breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, although the vaccine is still being tested.

Researchers say they haven't found any safety concerns in their trials, although that will need to continue to be tested. BioNTech said the immunization effect could "last for at least a year" but the duration of the effect remains to be seen.

Caroline Gems, a Berlin student, took part in the trials. She told DW she experienced "no side effects," apart from those usually expected from an influenza vaccine.

"I feel good. I’m very happy that it’s this successful, but I act like I haven't had any vaccine," she said. "So I wear a face mask all the time, I keep distance, I wash my hands, but I’m happy that there is a light at the end of the tunnel." 

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will need to be administered in two injections, meaning that large numbers of doses will need to be produced.

When will the vaccine be available?

Although researchers and health agencies are working as quickly as possible, safety and public trust remain high priorities. The German government and others in Europe have made it clear that they would not rollout the vaccine until they were sure about its safety.

German lawmaker Dr. Andrew UIllmann told DW there had to be a discussion on how any vaccine would be distributed.

"We cannot say America first or Europe first," he said. "Because we have a global responsibility in the global health arena."

Countries around the world are clamoring to get sign contracts for millions of doses. Germany's Spahn said on Monday the vaccine isn't likely to come onto the market in 2020, but can be expected in the first three months of 2021. The British government, on the other hand, asked its National Health Service on Tuesday to prepare to deploy it from the start of December.

rs/rt (AFP, Reuters)

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