It has become clear that even the best national health systems cannot protect against a pandemic on their own. And some egoism at the beginning of the pandemic has shown how quickly Europe can disintegrate again. Who would have thought a year ago that our economic well-being would essentially depend on pharmaceutical progress?
While the current discussions on vaccine procurement may be necessary, we should not lose sight of the fact that Europe is currently making a positive difference. The vaccination companies Biontech and Curevac are the result of a European interlinked research landscape that puts the well-being of people at its core. Both companies originate from innovative cancer research for a good reason. Their work builds on a European research strategy which aims to fight serious diseases – such as cancer or Alzheimer’s – using personalised medicine. One of their first results is the Corona vaccine. Therefore, Europe is a flagship of innovation for the whole world, if only we bring our knowledge and skills together. Without the EU, there would be neither a readily available and effective European Corona vaccine today, nor enough vaccine doses for the entire world in the medium term.
Now, research and production capacities must be further expanded so that as many people as possible can be vaccinated as quickly as possible. Every contract signed, every new factory built helps stop the pandemic more effectively, saves lives, brings people back together and boosts the economy. Today’s efforts are successful, but not yet sufficient. This is why we need to launch another €10 billion vaccination campaign in the EU in order to extend Europe’s leadership. This campaign should promote research, but above all provide incentives for the pharmaceutical industry and neighbouring industries to ensure that all available resources are being used throughout Europe.
It is a great success that vaccination started almost simultaneously across Europe. Now we have to ensure that vaccination is successfully carried out as quickly as possible. The vaccination campaign should therefore also eliminate all possible shortages at an early stage with regard to the hundreds of millions of vaccinations that are now due, and provide the best possible logistics. Europe could thus be the first continent in the world to overcome the Corona pandemic.
At the same time, this campaign should promote a public debate in which scientists explain the background and opportunities of new types of vaccines. Precisely because Europe has the strictest health and risk regulations as well as the most responsible medical research in the world and precisely because we have insisted on European liability law when concluding contracts with pharmaceutical companies, can we best convince people of European vaccines. The effectiveness of medical innovation depends to a large extent on the understanding of innovation and the acceptance of vaccination. Our focus lies on people, not on markets or profit. We must counter fake news and half-truths.
The health issue must not and will not be over for Europe once the pandemic is under control. The infrastructure which has now been created for the Corona vaccines must not become an investment ruin, but secure Europe’s innovation leadership in personalised medicine. To this end, we should create a European ‘Marie Sklodowska-Curie Institute’ for personalised medicine that better coordinates, bundles and promotes research and application capacities during pandemics as well as in cancer and Alzheimer’s research and launches large-scale health projects. Improved cancer diagnosis and treatment for all Europeans could be an important intermediate step. Health is Europe’s new field for ambitious goals. Together we can beat pandemics, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
70 years ago, coal and steel were the European linkage to make war impossible once and for all. Today, it is no longer only the market, the economy and money that define the unity of the EU. Let’s expand the EU with a Health Union where cutting edge research and world-class applications go hand in hand. For this, it is worth being European, believing in Europe, working on Europe.
Manfred Weber is Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament and Vice-President of the CSU in Germany.
This op-Ed was published first in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 12/01/21 and the European online newspaper EUobserver on 14/01/21.