Statement by President von der Leyen at the Paris Peace Forum during the session ACT-A: COVID-19 vaccines, tests and therapies – the global public good solution

[Moderator Bell: I would like to turn now to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. We are also very honoured that you are with us today. I think you have had probably more direct experience and most of the difficulties inherent in trying to coordinate responses since your first task was to try to get European countries on the same page when it came to things like vaccine procurement. How difficult was it?]

President von der Leyen: This whole endeavour started when the United States announced this, you might remember it, operation ‘Warp Speed’ and all of the sudden, there was a rush to get as a country or as a nation at first access to potential vaccines. And it was very difficult at the beginning, but then we convinced Member States that it is way better if we act together as 27 in the European Union. We have a better negotiation position towards the pharmaceutical industry. We have a way better leverage. The pre-financing is easier. And it was the logic, which also is a global logic, that no one is safe until everybody is safe – you know that sentence. But this also means if we have a vaccine, we should have a common approach to give a fair share to everyone, so that the most vulnerable groups, the frontline workers and the health care workers, for example, are the ones who get the vaccine first. And this worked well. So by now, we have contracted with pharmaceutical companies so-called Advance Purchase Agreements. And what is hidden behind it? The Commission closes a contract with the pharmaceutical industry to have options on vaccine doses, if this company finds the vaccine or has developed the vaccine. But, what we are doing is investing now in these companies so that their production capabilities are increased. Then, if they are successful with the vaccine, the Member States have access to buy their fair share of vaccine doses. The good part is, as we invest in increasing the production capabilities of the pharmaceutical industry, the production is not only for the European Union, but also for the rest of the world. And this, we have to do now. Because as the vaccines will be developed, of course, the demand for the vaccines will be high in large numbers, huge numbers. And for that, you need the production capabilities. So we did two things, care, of course, for the European citizens, but – at the same time – also for the rest of the world. That is, for example, low-and middle-income countries who also need access and therefore the capabilities to really have these doses.

[Moderator Bell: Madam President, you really illustrate how important or what strength there is in numbers, in a coordinated response. Tell us why you think that this equitable and global access to vaccines should be such a global priority for everyone.]

President von der Leyen: First of all, it is a very clear point: Too many lives have been lost already. So that is point number one. And we know, that there are groups that are more vulnerable than others. The second point is an economic one: We are so interconnected, economically, that none of us will get back to the former economic prosperity, if the rest of the world is not doing better, too. So that vaccination and immunisation of the global population is increasing. And we had the example already because in Europe, for example, in the first wave, we had a huge impact of the virus in Southern and Western Europe, but the Eastern and Central European Member States were not affected that much. But the economic impact that they had was as strong as in the other Member States even if the virus was not that heavy, because, of course, the value chains were interrupted, the flow of goods did not function anymore, the export or import of goods was not possible anymore. So in a nutshell: This is an example for the whole world. We all know that if there are severe lockdowns and the spread of the virus is heavy in some parts of the world, the rest of the world, of course, as we have a globalised economy, is affected, too. So there are good reasons to work together. And the last and most important reason is solidarity: so only if we work together, only if we join forces, we will be able to overcome this virus.

[Melissa Bell: President von der Leyen, what do you think about that? The idea that in a sense, so many of these arguments have been won, appear intuitive to people that this is the only way that we can avoid further losses and further deaths and a pandemic that is not under control. Tell us about the Commission’s contribution and why you had decided to play such a prominent role and again picking up on comments that were just made to put money behind those commitments.]

President von der Leyen: Yes, so the story of the ACT-Accelerator started indeed in spring and President Macron and Dr. Tedros talked about it. Friends from the United States actually called me and asked the European Commission to join and to show leadership on convening the different stakeholders. And indeed, it is a convening momentum, a convening power that you need. And if you look at who is in or for the working for the ACT-Accelerator: We have more than 40 countries now; we have the WHO as important multilateral organisation; we have organisations like CEPI in it, but also the foundations, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, or the Wellcome Trust, just to name some. And we have fantastic co-chairs this is, you have just heard and seen, Erna Solberg and Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa. Why do I describe that? It shows you need many. And we were also strongly supported by civil society and NGOs, for example ‘The Global Citizen’. So you need many to really step up, build this new construction, and raise money. We had two pledging rounds, where we raised EUR 16 billion, but Erna Solberg is right, this is not enough. And Melinda Gates also said it, this is not enough. Erna, you said you will now need EUR 28 billion more for the ACT-Accelerator to fulfill its objectives. I just want to remind us all that EUR 28 billion, well, that is the same sum the transport sector and the global tourism sector lose in just two days of lockdown. So there is a very clear message behind it: It is way better to invest now in the ACT-Accelerator and in COVAX – COVAX for the distribution in every corner of the world of vaccines – than to have to struggle longer with all the confinement measures we have suffered of during this pandemic. So I really, really welcome and it is really good news, the contributions that have been announced by Melinda Gates and by Erna Solberg. So the Commission also will contribute another EUR 100 million to the COVAX Facility. In the COVAX Facility it is so outstanding that you have 186 countries that come together and we have one pillar for the higher-income countries, and the second pillar, where the low- and middle-income countries are. And we expect the high-income countries to finance the vaccines and the deployment of vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. That is what COVAX is for. So it is enormously important also to support COVAX when GAVI with an enormous knowledge is distributing or is ready to deploy the vaccine to every corner, every village of this globe, where it is necessary. I think this is a strong case for stepping up together, for really calling for solidarity. It is in our common interest. It is the first time we have done that in such a way, together, but it is the very first time that the world has to fight such a global pandemic. And it is worth to show that we will overcome this pandemic with solidarity and joint action.


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