EU funds vaccine drive for eastern neighbours

By on 17/08/2021 | Updated on 17/08/2021
Medics swathed in PPE collect a COVID patient during the first wave of the pandemic, in Vitebsk, northern Belarus. Picture by Serge Serebro, Vitebsk Popular News

The European Union has pledged €35m (US$41m) to boost COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in six countries lying to the East of the bloc, as the global vaccine shortage bites.

The aid package will be used to provide at least 200m extra vaccine doses to the members of the EU’s ‘Eastern Partnership’ initiative: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The funding follows a €40m (US$47m) programme launched by the EU in February. In partnership with the World Health Organization, this aimed to strengthen vaccination preparedness across the six middle-income countries.

The EU support included training of health managers and medical staff; logistical support for vaccine delivery; vaccination data and safety monitoring; community engagement; and help with the development of digital COVID-19 certificates.

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Olivér Várhelyi, EU commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, said: “The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on people, health systems, and economies worldwide. The Eastern Partnership is unfortunately no exception.

“The EU is determined to support our Eastern neighbours to speed up vaccination as this will be decisive for ending the pandemic and launching the socio-economic recovery of the region. We care for our partners.”

COVID-19 vaccination rates across Eastern Partnership countries on 14 August ranged from 23% of the population being fully jabbed in Azerbaijan to just 2% in Armenia, according to the Our World in Data website.

The new package will support deployment of vaccines provided directly from the EU Vaccine Sharing Mechanism, as well as those coming through the global COVAX initiative and from vaccine producers. The aim is to complete the extra jabs by the end of the year.

The vaccination drive follows a €35m (US$41m) Solidarity for Health Initiative across Eastern Partnership countries, jointly mounted by the EU and WHO last year. The action provided more than 11m items of PPE; 12,000 lab kits; 1,500 ventilators and related equipment; and 20,000 PCR testing kits.

The EU doubled its contribution to COVAX in February to €1bn. COVAX, which is led by the WHO and partner organisations, aims to ensure equitable access to vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. It has a target of delivering 1.3m doses across 92 countries by the end of the year.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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