Kyriakides: «Closures? Countries decide. But Europe must be united when it comes to travel pads “

from Francesca Basso, correspondent from Brussels

The EU Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides: «The antiviral pill? It cannot replace vaccination “,” we must urgently increase immunization and recall rates across the EU, to protect against the most serious effects “

“This is no time to throw away our masks, hand sanitizers or stop keeping our distance. I fully understand how difficult it is to ask our citizens for this again, especially with the approach of Christmas. Many of us want to get together with friends and families. But our personal behavior matters and makes a difference. Vaccination is also an act of social solidarity. It is a collective effort and responsibility, of citizens, member states and the global community ”. The EU Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides praises “the truly excellent cooperation with Minister Speranza” and expresses concern at the speed of the spread of the Omicron variant.

Should Europe return to lockdown for the holidays?

«At the moment we are in the midst of a new wave of Covid-19 infections, led by the Delta variant with high transmissibility but also by the gradual wave that is emerging of the Omicron variant. What we see in Denmark, the UK and the US gives us cause for concern. By now we know what needs to be done: vaccination, strengthening our immunity with the third dose and strengthening public health measures. The well-known measures – masks, distance, hand hygiene – work against all viruses and all variants. Each member state decides on the basis of its own situation and figures, but our common challenge now is to urgently increase vaccination and recall rates across the EU, to protect people from the more serious effects of Covid. ”

What does the new Commission delegated act provide for the green pass? Why did it take you so long to adjust the rules?

«The EU Covid digital certificate is a European success story that has gone global. More than 60 countries now use it, simply because it works. To ensure this continues, we need to move with science. The delegated act adopted this week does just that. We have learned that the effectiveness of vaccines decreases over time and that boosters can be very effective in increasing levels of protection. This is why we are introducing a period of validity for vaccination certificates: they will be valid for about 9 months to travel within the EU after a person has been fully vaccinated ».

Italy and other member states are asking for a swab to enter the country. Does this undermine trust in vaccines and undermine freedom of movement in the EU?

“When it comes to travel, we have always been clear that to avoid disrupting free movement safely and provide clarity to citizens and businesses, our approach must be based on scientific evidence and in close coordination and communication with states. members. We want to avoid fragmentation, which weakens our common response to the crisis. This is why in recent weeks we have taken concrete steps, together with Member States, to create a common approach to travel measures within the EU and with third countries. The next few weeks and months will be very busy with Omicron. The transmissibility that we see will create great pressure on our health systems. The more coordinated and united we are in our response, the more possibilities we will have to face it ».

Are there enough doses available in the EU? Germany expressed concern.

“With the emergence of the Omicron variant and the urgent need to accelerate recall campaigns, we are ready to support the needs of our member states. In recent days we have reached agreements with both BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna to accelerate deliveries in the coming weeks for all Member States, including Germany. Deliveries of the Novavax vaccine will also begin early next year, which will give us another option to speed up vaccination. Through solidarity and cooperation, our European strategy has ensured enough doses to vaccinate and give the booster to every European. This is a historic step in European cooperation, which we must continue to pursue ”.

What do you expect from the new antiviral treatments?

“In parallel with the increase in vaccinations and the third dose, safe and effective therapies to treat patients and save lives will be crucial as the Omicron wave reaches us. Thanks to the work of the European Medicines Agency (EMA, ed), we now have six promising therapies approved for use in the EU. Others will arrive in the coming months. We are now looking at ways to ensure that Member States can access it on favorable terms through multiple joint EU procurements, in a fair and simultaneous way. We already have two joint procurements underway, and more are on the way in early 2022, with the majority of Member States participating in each of them. In the meantime, the message remains clear to everyone: step forward, get the vaccine, take the third dose. This remains the best protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death ».

Antiviral pills are very expensive, will all Member States be able to afford them?

“As safe and effective therapies are a key pillar of our response to the pandemic, it is vital to ensure that all Member States have access to them. Negotiating together as a large market of 430 million citizens is the surest way to guarantee the best possible purchasing conditions ».

Are antiviral pills the solution for those who do not want to get vaccinated?

“Therapies are not a substitute for vaccination. Vaccines are our best preventative response to the virus. But even with vaccines, some patients may need treatment. We are working to ensure that these are available to Member States as quickly and as favorably as possible, in the same way we have worked for vaccines. ‘

How long will Covid still last?

Unfortunately, this is very difficult to predict. As we have seen with Omicron, variants are an ever-present threat to our return to normal. For the time being, our focus must be on preparing, responding and protecting our citizens. We know that around one third of Europeans, or around 150 million people, have not been vaccinated, and this must change if we are to overcome this pandemic. We must continue to respect public health measures ».