Wed. May 18th, 2022

Brussels, 29 March 2022

After discussing the EU’s response to the impact of the war in Ukraine on public health, ministers exchanged views on the challenges that lie ahead for the EU’s vaccine strategy.

Health and humanitarian situation in Ukraine

The Commission informed delegations about the public health and humanitarian situation in Ukraine and the steps taken by the EU – particularly the setting-up of a solidarity mechanism to transfer Ukrainian patients, access to vaccination against infectious diseases, especially for children, and mental health initiatives.

Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to provide health support to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, but also to member states on the EU’s borders that are first in line when it comes to providing medical care for Ukrainian refugees.

Infographic – COVID-19: the EU’s contribution to global vaccine solidarity

See full infographic

EU strategy on vaccine solidarity

Two years after the pandemic began and one year since vaccination campaigns were launched in the EU, member states discussed updating their strategy for supplying and donating vaccines in order to address new challenges for COVID-19 vaccination.

The epidemiological situation in connection with the spread of SARS-CoV-2 is improving in Europe and worldwide, and vaccine supply is now exceeding demand both in the member states and in the countries that receive donations from the EU.

The EU has committed to donating 700 million doses by mid-2022 to help reach the WHO’s target of vaccinating 70 % of the global population. By March 2022, member states had already supplied more than 400 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the countries that needed them most, making the EU the world’s number one donor.

Sharing vaccines with countries that need them remains a core objective of the EU’s vaccine strategy, but developing how it is put into practice will help make it more effective.

Changes that could be made to the EU’s overall vaccine strategy include:

  • adapting vaccine purchase contracts to take account of the large share of Europe’s population who have received primary vaccinations and the stocks of doses member states have in reserve;
  • optimising delivery schedules for doses to be donated and the management of stocks, together with COVAX;
  • engaging in a regular dialogue with the manufacturers to enable these adaptations to be made.

Member states also stressed the importance of evaluating these options in the light of scientific advice and monitoring, shared at EU level.

Finally, the Member States insisted on the need to devise, as soon as possible, a definition of a common vaccination strategy, in particular concerning the possibility of extended access to a fourth dose.

Europe’s response to rare diseases (informal lunch)

More than 30 million European citizens have a rare disease, and 95 % of them are have still not been treated or are not receiving appropriate care.

In this context, the ministers discussed whether it would be useful to strengthen cooperation and coordination on rare diseases between Member States and at EU level. The presidency was keen to discuss the matter because it considers that boosting EU action in this field brings tangible benefits of the public health union to European citizens.

Cooperation among member states and medical establishments on rare diseases is already crucial in helping the patients suffering from them, but other tools may serve to make the EU’s action even more effective. In particular, ministers discussed the role that the future European Health Data Space would play in combating rare diseases. Access to high-quality health data within a safe framework could also help make new, safer, personalised treatment accessible sooner.

Any other business

The presidency informed ministers about the decision recently adopted by the Council authorising the opening of negotiations on behalf of the European Union for an international agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, as well as complementary amendments to the International Health Regulations.

The presidency reported on the various events in the field of health that had been held since January 2022. These included conferences on the resilience of health systems (18 January), on digital health (2 February), global health (9 February), rare diseases (28 February) and resistance to antibiotics (7 March), and the informal EPSCO Council meeting in Grenoble (10 February) on building a public health union.

Finally, the presidency informed ministers about the ongoing negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament to agree on a common position on the regulation on serious cross-border threats to health.

The Council also adopted without discussion the items that figured in the list of non-legislative A items.

The Council adopted a regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 138/2004 as regards regional economic accounts for agriculture.

Meeting information
  • Meeting n°3861
  • Brussels
  • 29 March 2022, 10:00
Preparatory documents
Outcome documents
Press releases