New EU agency to prepare for future pandemics 

It aims to “prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to health emergencies”. 
New EU agency to prepare for future pandemics 

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the EU has proposed the development of a new agency to help support EU countries in preparing and responding to such health crises in the future.

In her 2021 State of the European Union address to the European Parliament in September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke of how the EU needs “to make sure that no virus will ever turn a local epidemic into a pandemic. There is no better return on investment than that.” 

In the opening months of the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw how EU Member States struggled to source supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), in a rush to secure enough for their own countries.

At the outset of the pandemic, the EU was constrained by its limited public health powers and the lack of structures that could coordinate responses at both EU and Member State levels. A new role developed for the EU during the pandemic however, in helping to coordinate EU countries’ access to much-needed PPE supplies.

In the wake of the pandemic, the EU has proposed the development of a new agency, the European Health Emergency preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), to help support EU countries in preparing and responding to such health crises in the future.

Rapid response

It aims to “prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to health emergencies”, through intelligence gathering and building the necessary response capacities. It will be similar to the US agency BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

HERA will function in two main ways: preparing before crises and emergency operations.

In terms of the first function, in anticipation of health emergencies, HERA will support research and innovation for the development of new medical response such as vaccines, antibiotics, medical equipment, chemical antidotes, therapeutics or diagnostic tests through EU wide clinical trial networks and platforms for the rapid sharing of data.

HERA will also address market challenges and boost industrial capacity in relating supply chains. This involves building on the work done by the EU’s ‘Task Force for Industrial Scale up of Covid-19 Vaccines’.

This task force set up close cooperation with the medical supplies industry and created a long-term strategy for manufacturing to ensure that there was capacity in supply chains.

The second plank is HERA’s ability to respond to any future health emergencies. In such a situation, HERA will focus on ensuring the development, production and distribution of medicines, vaccines and other medical countermeasures, including PPE that was often lacking during the first phase of the response to Covid-19.

Through its emergency operations, which will involve swift decision making and the activation of emergency measures by the new high-level Board, HERA will trigger emergency funding and launch mechanisms for the monitoring, procurement and purchase of medical countermeasures and raw materials.

Billions in funding 

HERA has been allocated €6 billion funding in 2022-2027 from several EU programmes including on its structure and governance and issue a report to the European Parliament and the Council.

The HERA Board will be comprised of expertise representatives from the EU institutions and countries. They will contribute to the preparation of multi-annual strategic planning, set objectives and shape the strategic direction of both EU and national health preparedness and response plans. Several observers will participate at Board level, including representatives from EU agencies and bodies and from the European Parliament.

In 2025, an in-depth review of HERA will take place, including on its structure and governance.

HERA is a key pillar that aims to strengthen the broader European Health Union, which aims to enable all 27 EU countries to prepare for and respond together to health crises. It will draw upon international cooperation and support by working with HERA-like national agencies, the World Health Organisation and other global partners.

Although there are other European medical authorities, such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), HERA will focus on stronger anticipatory, forward-looking and response- focused dimensions related to threat assessments and foresight.

HERA will build upon the foundations laid by “HERA Incubator” which is working to detect and analyse new variants of Covid-19 and supporting the development of vaccines against new variants.

To be in place early next year 

The proposals will now be passed from the European Commission, which draws up EU legislation, for discussion and adoption by the EU government ministers at the Council of the EU and MEPs in the European Parliament.

The aim is to have HERA operational as an internal European Commission structure by early 2022.

Ireland, as a small EU country, stands to benefit from this by being able to tap into this common pool of resources and help from other EU countries in any future health crisis. Similarly, Ireland was able to successfully tap into a common supply of Covid- 19 vaccines, as part of the EU’s Covid-19 Vaccines Strategy.

This has supported Ireland in reaching a rate of 74% of the total population being fully vaccinated, higher than countries such as Italy (67%), the UK (66%), France (65%), Germany (64%) and the US (55%).

For more information on HERA and European Movement Ireland, visit www.europeanmovement.ie.

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