EU proposes production investment to remedy vaccine shortages

FILE PHOTO: European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen removes her protective face mask as she meets Moldova's President Maia Sandu at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission is proposing to speed up the production of COVID-19 vaccines by helping to upgrade existing pharmaceutical plants or build new ones, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

The letter, from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, comes as the bloc struggles with a shortage of vaccines largely arising from production issues.

“The Commission should deploy all means necessary to meet Europe’s needs, be it through additional investing in upgrading or repurposing existing plants or building new ones,” the joint letter to EU leaders said.

It added that the newly agreed EU budget, which together with a recovery fund totals 1.8 trillion euros ($2.2 trillion), should be used to best effect.

The Commission, the letter said, should talk with industry not only to address the supply of vaccines but also other products such as tests and treatments.

The Commission is also proposing to create a programme involving high tech companies and manufacturers to detect and respond to future pathogens faster.

Von der Leyen faced hours of questions on Tuesday from lawmakers over the Commission’s vaccine strategy, with criticism of the slow rollout and export control plan that dismayed Britain and Ireland.

EU countries have so far given first doses to about 3% of their populations, compared with 9% for the United States and 14% for Britain, according to Our World in Data.

($1 = 0.8319 euros)

Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Steve Orlofsky