May 21, 2021
On Thursday, the European Commission announced that it had signed a contract with Pfizer/BioNTech for 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 vaccine. 900 million of the doses will be the current vaccine and the one adapted for the variants, with the option to purchase an additional 900. The doses are to be delivered between 2021 and 2023.
It guarantees up to 1.8 billion doses for our fight against COVID and its variants.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) May 20, 2021
So far, the EU has contracted with six different vaccine makers to secure 2.6 billion doses. This comes after AstraZeneca failed to meet its obligations to the EU. The pharmaceutical company contracted to distribute 300 million doses among the member states of the European Union in 2021. AstraZeneca fell short of its promises when, in the first quarter, it delivered 30 million doses and announced that it would only deliver 70 million doses out of the promised 180 million in the second quarter of the year. The EU filed a lawsuit against AstraZeneca, with hearings to begin in Brussels next week.
The agreement could be seen as a commendable effort on the bloc’s part to resuscitate its botched vaccine rollout program. Despite a lot of the hype, the EU’s vaccine efforts are still severely lagging behind other advanced economies such as the UK and USA. On the other hand, the EU has reportedly approved at least 148 million doses to be exported to other countries, which is more than the UK or USA can claim.
The signed contract also stipulates that the doses be received on behalf of all the European Union member states. However, not only must the vaccine be produced within the EU, but essential vaccine components must also be sourced from the EU.
As part of the deal, West Dublin’s Grange Castle plant will produce one of the active substances for Pfizer’s vaccine as of the end of this year. An urgent $40 million will be invested in the plant that will become the second plant worldwide, and the first outside of the US, to manufacture a key ingredient for the vaccine.
Not only will the $40m investment create 75 new jobs at Grange Castle in Dublin – it also puts Ireland at the heart of the EU’s fight against the pandemic.
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) May 19, 2021
The deal also allows for the possibility to sell or donate those doses to countries outside of the EU through the COVAX initiative.
Stamp of Approval
Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, commented, “We need to be one step ahead of the virus. This means having access to adapted vaccines to protect us against the threat of variants, booster vaccines to prolong immunity, as well as protecting our younger population. Our focus is a priority on technologies that have proven their worth, like mRNA vaccines, but we keep our options open. The past months have clearly demonstrated the need to have access to a broad portfolio of vaccines and different technologies, as well as reliable partners. As the pace of vaccination increases every day and work on effective therapeutics intensifies, we can look ahead with more optimism and confidence.”
By signing this agreement, Europe has also given its stamp of approval for the mRNA technology that Pfizer/BioNTech uses. Moderna also uses mRNA technology, while Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use carrier vaccine technology.
An mRNA is a special form of RNA that can enter inside a cell and give it instructions. In this case, the mRNA contains instructions on building the spike protein found on the surface of the coronavirus – not the virus itself, just the spikes. Spike proteins are what the virus uses to infect the host’s cells. Production of these spike proteins kicks the immune system into action, and it begins learning how to attack these intruders. It takes some time for the immune system to fight off these spikes, but people will not get sick because these are only the spike proteins and not the virus itself. Once the host’s immune system clears out the perceived invader, it will produce so-called memory B cells. The cells will linger in their system for months or even years and will immediately recognize and respond if the host is ever infected with the actual virus.