Wed. Oct 5th, 2022

7 September 2022

Representatives from Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland also accepted invitations to the meeting. The Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, the Director of the European Centre for Disease Control, the Director of the European Medicines Agency, and the WHO Regional Director for Europe also attended the meeting. The program was divided into several thematic blocks, which focused on the priorities of the Czech Presidency in the field of healthcare. The main topics were European assistance to the Ukrainian health system, vaccination and vaccine hesitancy, the fight against cancer and the conclusions of the Oncology Conference hosted in July by the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

During the first part of the meeting, the ministers focused on public health in the context of the war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Minister of Health, Viktor Liashko, was also invited to the meeting. Ministers stressed the need for EU cooperation and coordinated assistance for Ukrainian citizens remaining in Ukraine as well as for war refugees in the European Union. The emphasis was placed not only on immediate coordinated assistance directed towards Ukraine, but the restoration of the Ukrainian health system has also been discussed, for the very first time. Apart from ensuring a functioning health system able to provide a sufficient quality of healthcare for Ukrainian patients on their return, other aspects also need to be taken into account, in particular in the field of mutual recognition of education and qualifications in the field of healthcare.

“For me, as a Minister of Health, but also as a doctor, parent and grandparent, the most important thing was to ensure that all those people coming to our country receive healthcare comparable to that provided to European citizens, without compromising the availability and quality of care for European citizens themselves,” said Vlastimil Válek.

During the second block devoted to vaccination as the most effective tool for prevention of disease, ministers agreed on the importance of restoring public confidence in vaccination. The conclusions of this discussion aim to send a clear political signal in the fight against the trend towards a declining vaccination coverage and to prevent the deepening polarisation of opinion groups. During the debate, ministers stressed the need to find solutions on a European level, as only a coordinated approach can achieve the best possible results. The Czech Presidency will also address the subject of vaccination during the conference in November and will start to discuss the Council conclusions on vaccination at the end of September, later expected to be adopted at the EPSCO Council in December.

“The experience with COVID-19 has unfortunately deepened the distrust of vaccination among some citizens. Many people have forgotten that vaccination is one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. At many times over the course of our history, just like now, this was the only way to partially or completely avert a total catastrophe,” said Minister of Health Válek.

During the lunch discussion, representatives of the member states discussed oncology, the availability of cancer care, early screening, and the centralisation of the complex networks of specialised centres across Europe. The Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan was also an important topic of discussion. Health ministers endorsed the Call to Action, the outcome of the July Oncology Conference, which calls for faster and more effective implementation of the plan. The Czech Presidency will build on its previous activities in the field of oncology by launching a discussion on the Council Recommendation on Cancer Screening, which is one of its priority proposals. The adoption of the Recommendation will take place at the December EPSCO Council.

“Oncology is one of the most important priorities of the Czech Republic. I am certain that as a nation, we have a lot to offer Europe in this respect. I am very pleased that we are able to move this key agenda forward during our Presidency. The Ministers were invited to implement the existing plan in a concrete way,” specified the Minister of Health.

In the afternoon, under the auspices of the European Commission and the Czech Presidency, a meeting of the HERA Committee was held at ministerial level with the presence of representatives of Bavarian Nordic, BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna. The topic of the meeting with the first mentioned company was the issue of vaccination against monkeypox. Discussions with BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna focused on the issue of the surplus of COVID-19 vaccines and the flexibility of future and current contracts with manufacturers.

The negotiations were preceded by several months of intensive communication with the vaccine manufacturers to ensure the most effective resolution of the issue. Together with the European Commission, the Czech Presidency has succeeded in moving this discussion forward significantly. Agreement was reached on substantial streamlining and greater flexibility in the supply of vaccines to EU Member States. One of the conclusions of the negotiations is that after 19 September, only the newest types of vaccines will be delivered. Shipments planned for the end of this year will thus be postponed to 2023 and shipments for 2023 will be postponed to the following year, depending on Member States’ needs. This will be based on current demand, and therefore the Member States do not have to dispose of expired vaccines again. The exact conditions and technical details will be specified in the coming period.

More details and remarks by EU Health Commissioner Kyriakides:

“Our aim was to coordinate this meeting within the framework of our Presidency and to defend the interests of the EU Member States in relation to COVID-19 vaccines. The discussion was very challenging but also very constructive on the part of the participants, nonetheless the compromise was reached. We are glad that we found a general consensus on many of the topics we discussed, and I am certain that we are steering the future of these contracts in the best possible direction for the whole EU,” said Vlastimil Válek, Minister of Health, in conclusion.

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