At the end of June 2023 reports circulated that the EU Commission was preparing deals with Pfizer and European drugmakers in anticipation of future global health emergencies. This was confirmed by the Commission in news from the European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA). Through the EU FAB network, the HaDEA signed a contract with four contractors for “sufficient and agile manufacturing capacities”. These are intended to be kept operational with potential for swift activation to secure a total of 325 million doses a year of mRNA-based, vector-based, or protein-based vaccines in the event of a public health emergency.  

What is EU FAB? 

The network comprises European vaccine producers in Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Spain. It has a goal of closing the gap between manufacturing and scaling up of vaccine production, ensuring that the industry has capacity to produce “life-saving medicines”. It has two phases: 

  1. Preparedness phase – through this phase the network reserves the necessary manufacturing capacity. Facilities ensure constant readiness to respond to a crisis by keeping facilities up to date, staff trained, and supply chains monitored.  
  2. Crisis phase – in the event of a public health emergency, the Commission will purchase vaccines and activate EU FAB. The facilities will commence production and deliver vaccines according to established deadlines. 
The manufacturers 

EU FAB covers manufacturing capacities for a range of vaccine platforms as follows: 

  • Vector-based: Bilthoven Biologicals  
  • Protein-based: LABORATORIOS HIPRA, CZ Vaccines, and Laboratorio Reig Jofre  
  • mRNA: Pfizer Ireland Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer Manufacturing Belgium 
Will this cause future inequality? 

Although this preparation may be welcomed by some, others fear that it risks a return to the vaccine inequality of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Mohga Kamal-Yanni of the People’s Vaccine Alliance commented that we seem to be forgetting our experience of the pandemic in which “developing countries were sent to the back of the queue for vaccines and treatments”. 

“The EU and pharmaceutical companies seem to be planning to do it all over again in the next health crisis.” 

Dr Kamal-Yanni recognised the EU’s “right” to protect its own citizens but criticised the “message” that “the lives of people in rich countries are valued above all others”. 

“Even from a perspective of self-interest, it is a short-sighted vision that seems to pretend viruses will stop at the EU’s borders.”  

Instead, Dr Kamal-Yanni demanded “detail” from EU leaders and pharmaceutical companies on how they will help to ensure “similar measures for equitable access for developing countries”.  

“Unless they listen to the demands of low- and middle-income countries, the world is set to repeat the deadly nationalism, inequity, and profiteering of the COVID-19 pandemic.”  

Do you agree that this step is a selfish or “short-sighted” approach, or do you commend the EU Commission’s attempt at better preparedness? Don’t forget to subscribe for more like this every week.