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Next pandemic

The European Commission has signed a contract with a group of four vaccine producers to reserve vaccine manufacturing capacity in case of future outbreaks of disease, the EU executive announced Friday.The deal was signed with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Spanish vaccine makers HIPRA and CZ vaccines, and Dutch company Bilthoven Biologicals. It covers enough capacity for 325 million doses a year, at a cost of €160 million per year.

The contract includes a range of different vaccine types: mRNA vaccines which were first rolled-out during COVID-19, as well as viral vector and protein-based shots. The deal is open-ended when it comes to the type of infectious diseases the vaccines protect against.The European Union is set on showing it has learned the lessons from the last pandemic, when COVID-19 ripped through the bloc — sending countries scrambling to control the spread of the virus through harsh social restrictions. The EU also found itself in a race with the U.S., the U.K. and others to secure doses from a limited number of vaccine makers due to constraints in supply. The deal seeks to avoid a similar situation, aiming for a quick roll-out of jabs in a future emergency. Under the terms of the contract, the EU books, and pays for, vaccine production capacity from pharmaceutical companies, which promise to deliver a set number of doses if they develop a shot in a pandemic situation. In effect, in normal times the bloc pays for unused vaccine capacity in order to have insurance in case of an emergency. The arrangement was brokered as part of the EU FAB program, managed by the bloc’s pandemic preparedness body, the European Health Emergency Response Authority. It was launched in April 2021, when COVID-19 was still considered a pandemic emergency. This is the first commercial result of the program.The EU already has similar deals to reserve capacity for avian influenza vaccines with both GlaxoSmithKline and Seqirus. The infectious disease, also known as bird flu, is considered a prime candidate for the next pandemic.

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