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The Lessons Learned from the EU’s Joint Vaccine Procurements Strategy

The EU's Joint Vaccine Procurements Strategy | IE School of Global and Public Affairs

A meaningful conversation on the EU's vaccination strategy and the difficulties to negotiate on behalf of 27 countries.

The European Union’s vaccine procurement strategy has come under fire in recent days, but what lessons can be learned from this strategy? This was the topic of discussion in a webinar hosted on Monday under the aegis of the IE School of Global and Public Affairs´ Transatlantic Relations Initiative and the Observatory on the European Union (EU).

Lucas González Ojeda, Head of Media at the EU Commission Representation in Spain, and Cristina Manzano, Director of Esglobal and Director of Content of IE University, were the speakers of this insightful roundtable moderated by Paz Guzmán, Co-Chair of the Observatory on the European Union and senior expert in the Recovery and Resilience Task Force at the European Commission in Spain.

The European Commission has managed to secure 2.6 billion doses of COVID19 vaccines. According to González Ojeda, this successful procurement is probably the best example of collaboration and solidarity within the European Union since the onset of the pandemic. “We have two clear examples in the last months. The first one is trying to centralize our efforts to negotiate contracts with the laboratories and the pharmaceutical companies to ensure doses for every single citizen in the European Union, and the second one is The Next Generation UE Program, amounting to a 750 billion euro stimulus for EU economies.”

González Ojeda, who has worked at the EU Commission as a financial economist on many different files related to financial stability, regulation and supervision, including the design and implementation of the EU assistance program to the Spanish financial sector from 2012 to 2014, highlighted that for the first time, the EU has negotiated as “one single voice” with the laboratories, which has led not only to better prices but has also ensured that all citizens within the EU are offered the same vaccination conditions.

González Ojeda also reminded the audience that R&D and production of the vaccines usually take five to ten years, but this time, the international community has managed to do it in only one year, despite substantial delivery problems.

“This successful procurement is probably the best example of collaboration and solidarity within the European Union since the onset of the pandemic.”

Lucas González Ojeda, Head of Media at the EU Commission Representation in Spain

Indeed, as Paz Guzmán added, the slow vaccination rollout is the price to pay for solidarity and union, which in turn is leading to discontent and dissatisfaction in Europe, especially when compared to other countries, like the UK, the United States or Israel.

Cristina Manzano explained why the EU is falling behind, “which doesn’t mean that in the medium-long term this cannot be solved.” First of all, she pointed out how much the concept of strategic autonomy in the EU has changed. “Things have changed so rapidly and so profoundly in the last months that we now consider health being a major issue. We realized how important strategic manufacturing is when, at the beginning of the pandemic, we noticed that not a single gram of paracetamol and not a single face mask was produced in the European Union.”

“Very rapidly the European Commission tried to take the lead and negotiate on behalf of the 27 member States,” she added, highlighting the difficulties of negotiating on behalf of 27 with 27 different particularities. “We all depend on the approval of the European Medicine Agency, we all fall under the umbrella of this agency and that also makes things slower.”

Furthermore, Manzano, who is a member of several organizations in the international relations sphere, such as the European Council on Foreign Relations, the Real Instituto Elcano, the Club of Madrid, and the Spanish Chapter of the Club of Rome, said that as a block the EU was not aware of the complexities of bringing vaccine production back to the continent. Finally, she added that Europe has not managed expectations well: “We set very high objectives and will not be able to achieve them.”

Paz Guzmán stressed the complexity of the supply chain and the production of the vaccines. “We probably underestimated some problems that could happen,” González Ojeda agreed. “But having said this, the issue now is to think how to improve and enhance all the activities that we have launched together in the last months to ensure production capacities.” In his opinion, it is time to ensure production and not to speak about sanctions against laboratories.

“Never before have we been so aware of how global problems need global solutions, and we are not tackling this global problem from a global perspective.”

Cristina Manzano, Director of Esglobal and Director of Content of IE University

Manzano noted that the pandemic is not over and argued for a licensing solution. “The production capacity that we set up now will also need to be there for the future and that’s where I think something like different licensing agreements can be a good solution especially for the developing world.”

“We are at the beginning of these projects,” said González Ojeda. “We have only authorized three vaccines within the European Union (…) but I am sure that within the next years, 2022 and 2023, we will have 10 to 12 vaccines to choose from and we will be able to produce many different vaccines.” He also mentioned that it is key to have the Digital Health Green Pass working properly before the summer and to ensure Interoperability of all the information in the different Member States.

Manzano reminded the audience that the pandemic came “at the worst moment for multilateralism” and has especially affected institutions like the World Health Organization, which has been attacked by Donald Trump, and before that, by China.

According to her, there has been very little global coordinated effort. “Never before have we been so aware of how global problems need global solutions, and we are not tackling this global problem from a global perspective.”

“If we want to push for multilateralism this has to be done by the European Union, of course, and, if we have the US on board, fantastic,” González Ojeda commented.

“We indeed lack research capacity, and we are aware of the things we need to change. But I am proud of how the EU has responded in spite of all the challenges it has faced and I do believe that we can make a difference in this pandemic,” Paz Guzmán concluded.