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EU to create new agency for pandemic response

The European Union announced on Wednesday the creation of a new biomedical authority designed to better respond to future pandemics, as it seeks to avoid repeating the mistakes that have undermined its early response to the coronavirus.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the executive body of the bloc, has also pledged to donate an additional 200 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine to middle- and low-income countries by mid -2022, in addition to the 250 million already promised by the end of the year.

In her annual State of the Union address, Ms von der Leyen described immunization gaps as one of the biggest geopolitical issues nations face.

“The extent of the injustice and the level of urgency are evident,” von der Leyen told lawmakers at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. EU member countries had only given 18 million doses in early September, a fraction of the 200 million promised.

While most developing countries have yet to administer a single dose of the coronavirus vaccine, including in the immediate vicinity of the European Union, more than 70% of adults in the block have been fully vaccinated. Ms von der Leyen said this places the bloc among the world leaders in immunization.

“We have held up,” she said, although she admitted that the bloc faced wide gaps at the national level as several Eastern European countries were lagging behind.

Ms von der Leyen’s confident tone on Wednesday contrasted sharply with her speech last year, when new cases of Covid-19 mushroomed across the block and coronavirus vaccines were months away.

“When I stood here in front of you a year ago, I didn’t know when and if we might have a safe and effective vaccine against the pandemic,” she said.

The European Commission, which has negotiated vaccines on behalf of member countries, has come under heavy criticism for the slow start of its vaccination program. The commission signed its first agreement on behalf of member countries months after the United States, hampering vaccine deliveries and, later, vaccination campaigns.

Still, the rollout has accelerated in recent months, and many EU countries have now overtaken other wealthy nations like Britain, Israel and the United States, and have started administering booster shots. to millions of older and vulnerable residents.

On Wednesday, Ms von der Leyen said the new agency, known as the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, or HERA, would aim to “ensure that no virus will ever turn a local epidemic into a global pandemic again.” .

The new authority is set to become the European equivalent of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in the United States, or BARDA, the federal health agency that focuses on vaccine development and pandemic preparedness.

It is expected to receive € 50 billion (around $ 59 million) in funding by 2027 and will work alongside existing EU health agencies, the European Center for Disease Control and the European Medicines Agency. .