After vaccines, Commission focuses on COVID-19 therapeutics strategy

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides meets Chris Fearne to discuss COVID-19 and medicine availability post-Brexit

Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne during Thursday's meeting
Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne during Thursday's meeting

Vaccines will not be enough to pull the world out of the pandemic, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides warned during a meeting with Malta’s Health Minister Chris Fearne.

“Vaccines won’t be enough. We have an EU therapeutics strategy based on the way we’ve already worked together,” she said.

She mentioned the EU’s efforts to procure COVID-19 therapeutics, including for the treatment of long COVID. The Commission has so far established a portfolio of 10 potential COVID-19 therapeutics.

Fearne met with Kyriakides on Thursday morning to discuss, among other things, the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out across Europe and the availability of medicine after Brexit.

Journalists were allowed to cover the first few minutes of the meeting, after which the meeting continued behind closed doors.

“In Europe we’ve had success. We procured vaccines as a union together and made sure they reached our citizens quickly,” Fearne said during his opening comments.

He thanked Kyriakides for her leadership throughout the pandemic, having been appointed Commissioner after the 2019 European elections

“Soon after you began your role as Commissioner, I visited you in Belgium and immediately spoke to you about a join procurement venture,” Fearne pointed out.

He added that Malta’s vaccine roll-out has been a success, with authorities now starting to relax certain COVID-19 restrictions.

Notably, government recently lifted the vaccine certificate requirement for restaurants, band clubs, and snack bars. The new measure comes into force on 7 February.

Fearne reiterated something Kyriakides said herself during her tenure as Commissioner. “We’re not safe until we’re all safe,” he commented.

“Some regions in the world lag behind. I know you agree that Europe has to be a leader in health. It is important for us to make sure that not only EU citizens have access to vaccines but also citizens from the wider world.”

Fearne briefly touched on medicinal supply issues that have cropped up for Malta after Brexit. The minister admitted that Malta enjoyed good trade relations with Britain when it came to medical procurement, but the supply chain was disrupted by Brexit.

Fearne pointed out there was no formal agreement after Brexit on the movement of medicine across the EU. This hindered Malta’s ability to procure standard medicinal goods.

However, he admitted that Kyriakides understood this early on and helped ensure that such medicines were readily available for Maltese people. Kyriakides similarly thanked Fearne for Malta’s friendship and cooperation over the last two years.

“As you said, the EU’s response to the pandemic and working with Member States has resulted in a paradigm shift in the area of health,” she said.

Earlier on Thursday, Kyriakides visited a health centre and spoke to health workers, citizens, and children receiving their booster jab.

“The rate achieved here, with 70% of the population boosted, is really a success,” she said.

Kyriakides praised Malta for a being a key player in health. She said that Malta was always looking ahead and learning from the pandemic, and further thanked him for supporting European health proposals.