EU Health Commissioner John Dalli said he wants to tighten coordination between national health authorities in the case of major health crises such as outbreaks of infectious diseases, food safety scares, biological or chemical terrorism, and health threats arising from climate change.
One of the key elements of the new plan is that the EU would have the option of declaring a “health emergency” if they suspect a pandemic is on the horizon – even before the World Health Organisation has declared a pandemic.
This would trigger new powers for the EU, including coordination on joint procurement of vaccines. Dalli says this could mean securing “equitable access at the lowest possible price”.
It also allows the Commission to fast-track the availability of vaccines to the European market, independent of the deliberations by the WHO.
The new measures, which will need to be endorsed by the European Parliament and 27 national governments, are seen as a response to how Europe responded to the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic when several EU member states had no vaccines while others were left with a surplus.
However, the joint procurement proposal tabled by the Commission will be voluntary. Whether national governments will agree to allow this level of coordination in how health emergencies are handled remains to be seen. The EU’s powers in the health area are limited and not all member states are likely to be keen to sign up.
External link: Q&A – Health Threats in the EU