Malta to join Covid-19 Vaccine Alliance amid concerns it overshadows EC vaccine strategy

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Malta will be joining the ‘Inclusive Vaccine Alliance’ which seeks to negotiate the price and availability for a Covid-19 vaccine, amidst concerns that this alliance may differ from the European Commission’s vaccine strategy as announced yesterday.

Speaking to Politico, Health Minister Chris Fearne confirmed that Malta would be joining the alliance, which was set up by Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Italy.

“I think any initiative which brings vaccines across the member states … brings value,” he said.

This initiative will negotiate the prices of coronavirus vaccines so that, once approved, they can be made affordable to all Europeans, with a priority for those manufactured in Europe.

Fearne was the first to comment on the need for the EU to jointly procure a vaccine, and Malta set up the Valletta Initiative, a grouping of 10 mostly southern and southeastern countries which will try to negotiate drug prices collectively. Fearne welcomed the alliance and said it seems to have already “brought progress.”

However, the announcement of a €2.7 billion European Commission strategy to buy vaccines in advance on Wednesday has raised questions over how the two strategies will interact with each other.

“Both are moving ahead simultaneously, but not necessarily in tandem”, Politico observed in its report.

At an EU health ministers meeting on Friday, countries gave the Commission the backing to buy coronavirus vaccines on their behalf.

The following day, the vaccine alliance announced it had signed a deal to purchase between 300 and 400 million doses of a vaccine developed by Anglo-Swedish drug company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

The news drew criticism from the Belgian Health Minister Maggi De Block, who called the negotiations “unreasonable”, although Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told Politico that the two approaches are “not incompatible”.

“I don’t think there will be a Chinese wall,” between the Commission and the alliance, Schinas said. “Clearly what we cannot do is pay twice for the same vaccine. There is an element of choice as to which approach one should follow.”

Others, such as EPP MEP Peter Liese, believe that the best approach would be for the alliance to completely merge with the Commission’s initiative.

However, it remains to be seen whether this will happen.  What is certain, is that most countries simply want a vaccine – regardless of how they get it.