Remarks by Vice-President Margaritis Schinas at the press conference on key actions for a united front to beat COVID-19

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC) i, gepubliceerd op dinsdag 19 januari 2021.

At the start of this new year, we have good reasons to be cautiously optimistic. With the first vaccinations now well under way, the end of the pandemic could be in sight, though not yet in reach.

The emergence of new variants of the virus and substantial rises in cases, leave us no room for complacency.

Now more than ever, must come a renewed determination for Europe to act together with unity, coordination and vigilance.

Our today's proposals aim to protect more lives and livelihoods later and relieve the burden on already stretched health care systems and workers. This is how the EU will come out of the crisis.

We need a steady and fast pace for vaccinations.

Vaccination is not a race between countries but is a race against time.

In Europe, we opted for the safety race.

The European Union Heads of State and Government will be discussing these crucial questions at a special videoconference this Thursday. Today, we are contributing to this discussion with specific proposals on how we could further step up our coordination and speed up progress.

Allow me to highlight a few points that, for us, should constitute clear priorities. These cover the four most pressing issues around vaccines today: vaccination, mutation of the virus, mobility and, international solidarity.

First, we need to speed up vaccination and vaccine supplies.

Vaccination requires a complex set of management and logistical steps, as well as a readiness to scale these up in line with increases in supply. These include having adequate stocks, effective appointment management systems, organising locations and facilities for mass vaccination, the preparation of necessary cold storage, and the training of extra personnel.

To support this, the Commission will work with companies to develop a transparent and clear delivery schedule of the different vaccines.

To ensure an ambitious vaccination effort concrete targets are essential. What gets measured gets done:

  • By March 2021, Member States should have vaccinated a minimum of 80% of health and social care professionals and people over 80 years old.
  • By summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated a minimum of 70% of the adult population.

To meet these objectives we need to ramp up the supply of vaccines, notably by working with manufacturers to maximise production capacity in the EU.

As more people are vaccinated, the documentation and mutual recognition of vaccination becomes of utmost importance. Vaccination certificates allow for a clear record of each individual's vaccination history, to ensure the right medical follow-up.

A common EU approach to trusted, reliable and verifiable certificates would allow people to use their records in other Member States. It would also open the door to other uses to help lift restrictions.

Vaccination certificates have to be recorded. They will be to the benefit of all citizens across the EU.

The Commission will continue to work with Member States on this common approach to be agreed before the end of this month and allow Member States' interoperable certificates to be rapidly useable within the EU and beyond.

Second, we need to deal with the new variants of the virus. Testing and genome sequencing are essential to identify the progression of the variants or detect any new ones.

Member States should update their testing strategies to reflect the new variants and urgently increase genome sequencing to at least 5% and preferably 10% of positive test results. At present, many Member States are testing under 1% of samples.

The Commission will support Member States to increase capacity, for example by mobilising funds to purchase genome-sequencing equipment and to support the WHO Reference Laboratory Network.

Third, we should preserve the single market and free movement while addressing mobility challenges. Blanket travel bans and suspension of flights, land transport and water crossings are not justified and very disruptive. We maintain that any restrictions should be coordinated, proportionate and non-discriminatory.

Fourth is global solidarity. We have led by example and pioneered an international effort to support vaccines' deployment through the COVAX facility and the Team Europe approach. However, the whole world is hunting for vaccines now and we cannot just ask partners to wait and see. Today, we are proposing to bridge the gap and create a sharing mechanism that allows vaccination to happen in the EU and elsewhere in parallel. Certes, this requires diplomacy and communication efforts so that citizens 1) know that the portfolio we have negotiated allows more than 1 billion people to be vaccinated, which is much more than what we need in the EU; and 2) acknowledge that no one is safe until we are all safe, so it is in our common interest.

The coming weeks represent a great challenge for the whole of the EU. The EU Vaccine Strategy has shown how a common approach can act as our common public health mission and agenda for the coming months, to keep the pandemic under control until safe and effective vaccines are deployed in sufficient scale.

We need to maintain determination to apply the steps essential to keep the spread of the virus in check.

And if we work together to use our scientific excellence, productive capacity, our solidarity and our values, we can ensure that Europeans can leave behind them more quickly the constraints and hardships suffered over the past year.

Stella will now outline the key actions of our proposal.

Thank you for your attention.