Could a COVID-19 vaccine be available in the EU this winter?

The first COVID-19 vaccines have now been approved by the European Commission. However, despite being authorized for use from November this year, it’s still unclear when they will be distributed to healthcare providers. 

The Commission says the vaccine is “safe and efficacious”. But, EU governments are not allowed to line up their own deals to buy them. This means the EU needs to negotiate on their behalf, and is currently in talks with a number of manufacturers. 

A spokesperson for the EU said in a statement that down payments on the vaccine have been made to AstraZeneca. If this goes through, it would mean a minimum of 300 doses would be available to give to European citizens. 

This is, however, dependent on clinical trials being successful. If they are, it’s possible that it could be rolled out this winter. 

There’s still some confusion over these timescales, though. Ursula von der Leyen said early on the pandemic that a vaccine could be available this year. However, the EMA said at the time that this was highly ambitious. 

As most new vaccines take a minimum of 18 to 24 months to test and produce, the reality is that a vaccine being ready this year, or even next year, is extremely optimistic. 

Another key factor for the EU to consider is the cost of the vaccine. At the moment, the exact prices are unknown. The EU says that it cannot reveal this information publicly, as it’s still in the negotiating phase with numerous suppliers and this could jeopardize any potential deals. 

According to the ECDC, once a vaccine becomes available, the EU will prepare a safety monitoring system. Under European rules, the suppliers would be liable for its safeness; however, if there are “hidden side-effects” the EMA would be responsible for this. 

In a recent interview, the chief of the ECDC noted, “We are working with the European Medicines’ Agency to prepare a monitoring system, when the vaccines come to monitor how they are used and how effective and safe they will be in real life.”

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