The European Commission has proposed a new health security framework, revising the current legal base (Decision 1082/2013/EU). Based on lessons learnt from combatting the coronavirus, the new framework will strengthen EU coordination and extend the role of EU agencies in the coordination of preparedness and response measures.
Until the new legislation has been adopted, Decision 1082/2013/EU on serious cross-border threats to health provides the framework to coordinate preparedness and response planning to strengthen capacities for the monitoring, early warning and assessment of, and response to health emergencies.
- supports sharing best practice and experience in preparedness and response planning
- provides a backbone for developing national plans to address different types of health threats – e.g. infectious disease like pandemic influenza, or other events caused by biological or unknown agents, accidents caused by chemical agents, natural events of environmental origin, or deliberate acts
- helps ensure the inter-operability of national plans – through coordination mechanisms, analysis and communication tools
- supports the implementation of core capacity requirements for the WHO International Health Regulations (IHR) to detect, assess, report, and respond to public health emergencies
EU action to reinforce preparedness includes, for example, regular exercises to test existing procedures under EU and national preparedness plans. Under the EU Health Programme, support is provided through training and exercises, facilitating the sharing of experiences, guidelines and procedures across EU countries. This ensures that national authorities and institutions are able to work together with the Commission, and one another, to share information in the event of a rapidly evolving crisis.
The Consumers, Health and Food Executive Agency (Chafea) manages projects on preparedness and response since 2003.
In addition, article 5 of Decision 1082/2013 includes provisions for the joint procurement of medical countermeasures, which ensures high levels of preparedness and a tool to support the coordinated response to health threats.
Joint Procurement of medical countermeasures: ensuring proper preparedness
The outbreak in 2009 of H1N1 pandemic influenza highlighted weaknesses in the access and purchasing power of EU countries to obtain pandemic vaccines and medications. The Council thus asked the European Commission to develop a mechanism to jointly procure medical countermeasures, that would support fair and equitable access to, and distribution of, pandemic influenza vaccines for the future.
The Joint Procurement Agreement for medical countermeasures (JPA) was approved by the Commission on 10 April 2014. As of April 2020, the JPA has been signed by 37 countries, including all EU and EEA countries, the UK, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Kosovo*.
The Agreement provides for a voluntary mechanism enabling participating EU countries and the EU institutions to purchase jointly medical countermeasures for different categories of cross-border health threats including vaccines, antivirals and other treatments. It lays down common rules for practical organisation of joint procurement procedures, namely:
- determines the practical arrangements governing the mechanism
- defines the decision-making process with regard to the choice of the procedures
- organises the assessment of the tenders and the award of the contract
The aim of the mechanism is to improve EU countries' preparedness to mitigate serious cross-border threats to health, secure more equitable access to specific medical countermeasures and an improved security of supply, together with more balanced prices for the participating countries. A joint procurement procedure can start if at least 4 Member States plus the Commission vote in favour and participate in the procurement process.
A major achievement for public health and serious cross-border threat preparedness is the signature of framework contracts for the production and supply of pandemic Influenza vaccines by the Commission and EU countries representing around half of the European population in March 2019.
Joint procurements have also been paramount in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of contracts with a total value of nearly 13 billion ensure that up-to 36 participating countries have access to the essential innovative therapeutics, as well as to protective and medical equipment in line with the EU policies on testing and vaccination.
Since early 2020, up to 36 countries, participated in twelve joint procurement procedures, which resulted in over 200 contracts allowing countries to order essential medical supplies and innovative therapeutics for nearly €13 billion.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.