The European Commission has now approved a Joint Procurement Agreement under which all European Union (EU) member states will be able to procure pandemic vaccines and other medicines as a group rather than individually.

The agreement will enable member states to ensure that pandemic vaccines and medicines are available in sufficient quantities and at a “correct” price, should a cross-boarder health threat emerge, and it will benefit all EU countries, particularly those which encountered difficulties in purchasing vaccines developed for the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic in 2009, says the Commission. 

27 member states have so far declared their intention to sign the Agreement, which is voluntary and will enter into force two weeks after it has been signed by a third of participating member states (10 countries) and the Commission.

The potential of the accord reaches beyond vaccines for pandemics – member states could benefit from extending the agreement to cover the purchase of medical countermeasures for other infectious diseases such as botulism, anthrax, hepatitis B or polio, officials point out. 

And signing the Joint Procurement Agreement does not imply any immediate financial commitment for member states – this will only be necessary when they sign contracts following procurement procedures launched on the basis of the accord, they explain.

Any EU country can make a proposal to others that they should procure medicines and vaccines together. The process will be guided by two types of steering committee: the Joint Procurement Agreement Steering Committee, which will be in charge of all issues relating to the subject matter of the Agreement; and the Specific Procurement Procedure Steering Committee, which will take charge of all matters relating to specific procurement procedures.

Announcing the agreement, European Commissioner for Health Tonio Borg said that joint procurement of pandemic vaccines and other medical countermeasures is a key achievement of the Commission’s work to protect citizens from serious cross-border threats to health.

“Through joint procurement all member states, big and small, can be better prepared for future health threats – they will be able to provide their citizens with the necessary medicines at to obtain them under better conditions than in the past,” said the Commissioner, and he called on “all member states to sign the Joint Procurement Agreement as soon as possible, so that we can proceed to the first procurement of pandemic vaccines.”