French proposal for 'public good'

Plan for EU to donate 5% of its Covid-19 vaccines to poor nations

Dose of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is displayed at the Hurley Clinic in London, Britain.
Dose of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is displayed at the Hurley Clinic in London, Britain.
Image: Aaron Chown/PA Wire/Pool via REUTERS

Brussels – The European Union could donate 5% of the Covid-19 vaccines it has secured to poorer nations, an internal document seen by Reuters shows, in a move that risks undercutting a distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The plan, drafted by the French government, sets a clear target for EU vaccine donations which so far had only been considered as an option if the bloc ended up with surplus doses.

The move could however deal a blow to the global procurement scheme, known as Covax, which has the goal of delivering 2bn shots by the end of next year to at least 20% of people most in need anywhere in the world.

Under the French plan, which still needs to be agreed among the 27 EU states, up to 65m doses of Covid-19 vaccines could eventually be donated by the EU.

The EU has secured 1.3bn doses under six advance purchase agreements with Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca/Oxford, Sanofi/GSK and CureVac.

Covax could be used to help identify countries most in need, the French paper says.

But to cut costs, vaccines should be delivered directly from vaccine makers and labelled as "Team Europe" donations.

"Donating vaccines from our EU portfolio to reach these priority groups appears to be, in the short term, the most efficient way of achieving the ambition of making the vaccine a public good."

The document estimates the donated doses could be used to inoculate, usually with a double jab, 16m healthcare workers in 62 poor countries. Doctors and nurses in another 54 low-income nations could also benefit.

Covax has struggled to order vaccines, as most shots have been booked by wealthy nations, including EU countries who despite funding the WHO facility prefer not buying shots through it because they don't want their supplies limited to 20% of their population, EU officials told Reuters.

The French plan may also circumvent Covax's exchange platform to allocate excess doses from rich to poor nations.

"The Covax facility represents the most efficient way for surplus doses to be shared on a global, equitable basis and we are in talks with donors, including the EU, around the specificities of how such donations can work," said a spokeswoman for Gavi, a vaccine alliance which co-leads Covax.

The European Commission, which coordinates the work of EU states on Covid-19 vaccines, and the French government declined to comment.

A firm commitment on donations is expected to reduce the gap between rich and poor nations in the global race to Covid-19 vaccines, but crucially it remains unclear when doses would begin to be shared.

The EU, with a population of 450m, is expected to receive in the coming months no more than 280m doses.

It is unlikely that EU countries donate these initial limited supplies.

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.