Federal health minister Maggie De Block has criticised plans by four other EU countries to buy up millions of doses of a British-Swedish vaccine against Covid-19, disregarding a programme run by the European Union.
The news came out today from the Dutch health minister, Hugo de Jonge, that the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and France had together ordered some 300 million doses of a vaccine being developed by the British-Swedish company Astra Zeneca.
The vaccine in question is still at the test stage.
According to De Block (Open VLD), the four countries’ action will weaken an effort by the EU to encourage research into other vaccine possibilities, which when it produces a successful vaccine will then be supported by purchases from all 27 member states.
That effort is less likely to be successful if four of the Union’s main economies defect to another project, De Block said.
The joint EU effort, she said, will continue to enjoy Belgium’s support “because we believe that is the best way to achieve maximum results for our citizens”.
Some countries have gone their own way, she said, “but we don’t think that’s wise. In this way you split the effort up and weaken everyone – not only the joint initiative of the Commission, but also your own position,” said a spokesperson for the health ministry.
The vaccine in question is being developed by a team at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH), whose CEO happens to be a Belgian. Astra Zeneca has purchased the licence to bring the vaccine to market when it has been tested successfully. In the meantime the company is producing two billion doses at its own expense, so as to be ready the moment the vaccine is approved.
“All we ask is that the costs of developing, registering and producing the vaccine are reimbursed,” said Bruno Holthof of OUH. “We are working very hard to develop and produce the vaccine, but we need orders to start producing it.”
Testing is reaching its final stages, he said, with tests carried out on 10,000 volunteers in the UK and 2,000 in Brazil.
“It is important that we can test in countries where the pandemic is still strongly present,” he said. “Because in order to prove the effectiveness of the vaccine, enough of the virus must be still circulating among the population.”
Tests carried out until now show that the vaccine is safe, he said.
“There have been no unforeseen side effects. We are still waiting for a signal that the vaccine is working.”