In her State of the European Union 2021 address to the European Parliament in September, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, explained how the EU must “ensure that no virus will transform never a local epidemic into a pandemic. There is no better return on your investment than this.
In the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw how EU member states struggled to stock up on personal protective equipment (PPE), in the rush to ensure enough to their own country.
At the start of the pandemic, the EU was constrained by its limited public health powers and the lack of structures capable of coordinating responses at EU and Member State levels. However, a new role developed for the EU during the pandemic, helping to coordinate EU countries’ access to much-needed PPE supplies.
In the wake of the pandemic, the EU has proposed the creation of a new agency, the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), to help EU countries prepare and respond to such health crises in the future.
It aims to “prevent, detect and respond quickly to health emergencies”, by gathering information and building the necessary response capacities. It will be similar to the American agency BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
HERA will operate in two main ways: pre-crisis preparedness and emergency operations.
Regarding the first function, in anticipation of health emergencies, HERA will support research and innovation for the development of new medical responses such as vaccines, antibiotics, medical equipment, chemical antidotes, therapies or tests diagnostics through EU-wide clinical trials networks and platforms. for fast data sharing.
HERA will also tackle market challenges and strengthen industrial capacity by connecting supply chains. This involves building on the work carried out by the EU’s Task Force for Industrial Scale up of Covid-19 Vaccines.
This working group has established close cooperation with the medical supply industry and created a long-term strategy for manufacturing to ensure the capacity of supply chains.
The second component is HERA’s ability to respond to any future health emergency. In such a situation, HERA will focus on the development, production and distribution of drugs, vaccines and other medical countermeasures, including PPE that was often lacking in the first phase of the Covid-19 response.
Through its emergency operations, which will involve rapid decision-making and the activation of emergency measures by the new high-level board, HERA will trigger emergency funding and launch monitoring mechanisms, d ‘supply and purchase of medical countermeasures and raw materials.
HERA has received â¬ 6 billion in funding in 2022-2027 from several EU programs, including on its structure and governance, and publishes a report to the European Parliament and the Council.
The HERA board will be made up of expert representatives from EU institutions and countries. They will contribute to the preparation of multi-annual strategic planning, set targets and shape the strategic direction of EU and country health preparedness and response plans. Several observers will participate at board level, including representatives of EU agencies and bodies and the European Parliament.
In 2025, a comprehensive review of HERA will take place, including its structure and governance.
HERA is a key pillar that aims to strengthen the European Health Union at large, which aims to enable the 27 EU countries to prepare and respond together to health crises. It will build on international cooperation and support by working with national agencies such as HERA, the World Health Organization and other global partners.
Although there are other European medical authorities, such as the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), HERA will focus on dimensions of anticipation, foresight and stronger response related to threat assessments and foresight.
HERA will build on the foundations laid by “HERA Incubator” which works to detect and analyze new variants of Covid-19 and to support the development of vaccines against new variants.
The proposals will now be adopted by the European Commission, which drafts European legislation, for discussion and adoption by European government ministers in the Council of the EU and MEPs in the European Parliament.
The aim is to make HERA operational as an internal structure of the European Commission by early 2022.
Ireland, as a small EU country, should benefit by being able to tap into this common pool of resources and help from other EU countries in any future health crisis. Likewise, Ireland has been able to successfully harness a common supply of Covid-19 vaccines, as part of the EU’s Covid-19 vaccine strategy.
This has helped Ireland achieve a rate of 74% of the total population being fully vaccinated, higher than countries like Italy (67%), UK (66%), France (65%) , Germany (64%) and the United States (55%).
For more information on HERA and the European Movement of Ireland, visit www.europeanmovement.ie.