The European Commission and Austria are announcing today the conclusion of agreements for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines for the Western Balkans. The 651,000 BioNTech/Pfizer doses are funded by the European Commission and will be shared with the facilitation of Austria. The first delivery to all the partners in the region is due in May, with regular tranches to continue until August.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “It is crucial to speed up the vaccination campaigns everywhere. I am happy to announce that we have secured doses to help vaccinate health care workers and other vulnerable groups in the Western Balkans. The European Union stands by our partners in the region, who have been looking to us for support. I want to thank Austria for facilitating this transfer, showing its firm commitment and solidarity with the Western Balkans”.
Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi, added: “Despite the current global shortage, the EU will deliver life-saving vaccines for the Western Balkans. We have provided support from the start of the COVID19 pandemic: First, with emergency medical equipment like masks, ventilators, intensive care units and ambulance vehicles; second, by strengthening the resilience. Now, we will help ensure the vaccination of all frontline medical workers across the region, as well as some of the other vulnerable groups. We care about the Western Balkans whose future is in the European Union”.
Austrian Foreign Minister, Alexander Schallenberg, stressed: “It is a top priority to make COVID-19 vaccines rapidly and comprehensively available to people across Europe. Against this backdrop, supporting the Western Balkans to obtain vaccines is an act of European solidarity and an investment in the health and security of the whole region. After all, blank spots on the vaccination map, wherever they may be, pose a danger to all of us. No one is safe until everyone is safe”.
Austria has facilitated the sharing of these vaccines through legal arrangements with the producer and the Western Balkan partners. The doses are funded from the EUR 70 million package adopted by the Commission in December 2020 to help cover the cost of vaccines, secured under the EU’s advance purchase agreements for the Western Balkan partners. The overall distribution between countries will be based on the epidemiological needs, prioritising in first instance medical workers and other vulnerable groups.
The European Commission is committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world. This is why it immediately responded to the WHO’s call for action and has helped raise almost €16 billion since 4 May 2020 under the Coronavirus Global Response, the global action for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus and for the global recovery.
The COVAX Facility is the vaccines pillar 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. So far €2.47 billion have been announced by the EU and the EU Member States for COVAX. COVAX aims to purchase 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, including over 1.3 billion for developing countries.
In addition, the EU Vaccines Strategy also contributes to global solidarity efforts. The EU has invested close to €3 billion to pre-finance the production of vaccines through its Advanced Purchase Agreements with pharmaceutical companies. These agreements offer EU Member states the possibility to resell, donate or transfer options to partner countries.
The Commission proposed to set up an EU sharing vaccines mechanism on the 19 of January, that will pay particular attention to the Western Balkans, the EU’s Neighbourhood and Africa and benefit above all health care workers and vulnerable populations.
The EU has acted very quickly in support of the Western Balkan partners from the start of the crisis, mobilising a very substantial package of €3.3 billion to help address the immediate health crisis and mitigate the socio economic crisis. More recently in October, the Commission put on the table an Economic and Investment Plan of up to €9 billion to spur the long term recovery of the Western Balkans and convergence with the EU.