Netherlands becomes last EU country to start coronavirus vaccinations

Welcome, health colleagues, to the first European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update of 2021, and a Happy New Year to all. The harrowing scenes at Capitol Hill in the US yesterday (6 January) may have us all wondering whether the new year is going to proceed much like its predecessor, but EAPM is confident of a good working relationship ahead, working with the US on all health issues from the outset of Joe Biden’s presidency, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Beating Cancer Plan receives fresh publishing date 

Every year, 3.5 million people in the EU are diagnosed with cancer, and 1.3 million die from it. Over 40% of cancer cases are preventable. Without reversing current trends, it could become the leading cause of death in the EU. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan aims to reduce the cancer burden for patients, their families and health systems. 

It will address cancer related inequalities between and within member states, with actions to support, coordinate and complement member states’ efforts.And the Commission plans to publish Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan on 3 February, to set out the Commission’s strategy to fight the disease throughout Europe. It was originally intended to be published in early December 2020, but has been delayed to 2021, as the pandemic response took priority.

CorWave takes lead as first Commission start-ups shareholder

On Wednesday (6 January), the European Commission began investing in “highly innovative” start-ups as well as small and medium-sized businesses. In the first investment round, the EU pumped €178 million into 42 companies through its new European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund. The French company CorWave, which develops a new type of implantable blood pumps, was the first to see the EU as its shareholder. There are 117 more companies in the pipeline to receive investments. The EIC fund is expected to total around €3 billion.

Portuguese EU Presidency puts emphasis on coronavirus vaccines 

Portuguese Deputy permanent representative, Ambassador Pedro Lourtie, said: “What is important … is to be able to co-ordinate, to share information, and make sure the purchase of vaccine[s] that was made through the joint contracts [is] being fulfilled. And in that sense the European Commission will be giving us regular information.”

Council President Charles Michel has said he wants to co-ordinate the rollout “with the heads of state and government in a regular way,” Lourtie said. “We will maintain this coordination in accordance, of course, with the national competencies.” 

In addition to vaccinations, the Portuguese presidency also has several other health ambitions, such as omproving access to medicines, reinforcing the EU’s ability to respond to crises and championing digital health.

Contact-tracing apps controversy

In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the European Commission’s Digital Strategy has gained renewed importance as digital tools are used to monitor the spread of the coronavirus, research and develop diagnostics, treatments and vaccines and ensure that Europeans can stay connected and safe online. However, Spain has announced that it’s planning to register people who had refused to take the vaccine so that it can share that data with the EU. A ministry spokesperson has said that all data would be pseudonymized and that it would only note the reasoning for turning down the vaccine. Sergio Miralles, an expert on Spanish data protection law at the law firm Intangibles, said the proposed data processing is “reasonable” since it’s limited to people who visit vaccination centers to voice their disapproval. But “any sharing of data with other countries should … be limited to those vaccinated and therefore exclude those opposing the vaccination,” he added.

EU seeks more doses of BioNTech vaccine as Germany outlines earlier deal

The European Commission is in talks with BioNTech on ordering more doses of their COVID-19 vaccine, a spokesman said on Monday (4 January), as Germany said it had secured additional shots for itself last September. The bloc, with a population of 450 million, has already ordered 200 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and has taken up an option to buy another 100 million under a contract signed with the two companies in November. The vaccine needs to be administered in two doses per person.“The Commission is checking with the companies whether there is a way to add additional doses to those for which we already have a deal,” the spokesman told a news conference.A spokesman for Pfizer declined to comment on whether new talks were under way with the EU.

EMA recommends COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna for authorization in the EU

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has recommended granting a conditional marketing authorization for COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna to prevent coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in people from 18 years of age. This is the second COVID-19 vaccine that EMA has recommended for authorization. EMA’s human medicines committee (CHMP) has thoroughly assessed the data on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine and recommended by consensus a formal conditional marketing authorization be granted by the European Commission. This will assure EU citizens that the vaccine meets EU standards and puts in place the safeguards, controls and obligations to underpin EU-wide vaccination campaigns.

“This vaccine provides us with another tool to overcome the current emergency,” said EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke. “It is a testament to the efforts and commitment of all involved that we have this second positive vaccine recommendation just short of a year since the pandemic was declared by WHO.

“As for all medicines, we will closely monitor data on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine to ensure ongoing protection of the EU public. Our work will always be guided by the scientific evidence and our commitment to safeguard the health of EU citizens.”

A large clinical trial showed that COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna was effective at preventing COVID-19 in people from 18 years of age.The trial involved around 30,000 people in total. Half received the vaccine and half were given dummy injections. People did not know whether they received the vaccine or the dummy injections. Efficacy was calculated in around 28,000 people from 18 to 94 years of age who had no sign of previous infection.

Around the bloc 

Greece aims to vaccinate 220,000 by January end

Coronavirus vaccinations will reach a minimum of 220,000 citizens by the end of January, Greek health authorities announced on Monday.Health Ministry Secretary General for Primary Health Care, Marios Themistokleous, said it is likely that other vaccines, such as the one by pharmaceuticals manufacturer Moderna, will be delivered imminently, thus increasing the number of available vaccines.Greece is faring well within the European average as far as progress with ongoing vaccinations is concerned, he added.Vaccinations of health workers, including doctors and nurses, were carried out at 56 public hospitals on Monday.

Will the Dutch coronavirus lockdown be extended? 

The past few days have seen a number of countries either strengthen or extend their coronavirus lockdowns. On Monday it was revealed that Germany would likely extend their existing lockdown, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has placed England under a complete national lockdown that will last until at least mid-February.The current so-called hard-lockdown that is in place in the Netherlands is only forecasted to last until 19 January. However, the date of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s next press conference – 12 January – is fast approaching. While the daily reports from the RIVM have shown that the number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands has dropped slightly, with 6.671 reported on Monday, the number remains high. Add to this the fact that the full impact of the Christmas holidays remains unknown, and the spread of the new highly contagious ‘British coronavirus’, and experts fear the number of infections will remain too high to justify lifting the lockdown.

Stricter measures for Italy

Italy is extending its holiday pandemic restrictions through at least 15 January, government officials there have announced.The rules prohibit travel between regions of the country unless it’s for health care or work. Bars and restaurants nationwide are restricted to takeout and delivery. In the hardest-hit areas of Italy, people are told to visit no more than one other private home each day in groups no larger than two. Italian officials are making allowances for small town residents to travel on certain days. On 9 and 10 January, for example, residents of towns with fewer than 5,000 people will be permitted to travel about 18 miles past regional borders.

And that is all for the beginning of 2021 – it is good to be back, stay safe and well, and see you early next week for more updates.

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