EU states back spending up to $2.7 billion upfront on COVID-19 vaccines

A Schott AG employee handles a borosilicate glass tubing, the material which will be used in vials or syringes to hold the eventual coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, during one of the stages of production at an undisclosed location in this 2014 handout image courtesy of Schott AG. (SCchott AG/Handout via Reuters)
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Updated 13 June 2020

EU states back spending up to $2.7 billion upfront on COVID-19 vaccines

BRUSSELS: The European Commission received a mandate from EU governments on Friday to negotiate advance purchases of promising coronavirus vaccines, the EU’s top health official said, but it is unclear whether there is enough money available.

The bloc is scrambling to sign advance deals with pharmaceutical companies to secure coronavirus vaccines under development, fearing a successful shot might not be available for Europeans soon enough. EU health ministers gave “overwhelming” backing for a Commission plan to use an emergency fund of currently €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion) to buy coronavirus vaccines upfront, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told journalists after a videoconference with representatives of the 27 EU governments.

Under the plan, the EU would use most of the money available in that fund to buy in advance up to six vaccines for its 450 million people, EU officials said. Such a multiple vaccine strategy could cost much more than the $1.2 billion deal signed by the US in May to secure 300 million doses of a single coronavirus vaccine being developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca.

Asked whether EU states should provide extra funds, Kyriakides said there was no need for further financial commitments at the moment. An EU official said member states’ financial support was welcome.

The EU is planning a vaccination strategy that would target the most vulnerable, which would reduce the number of doses immediately needed, and the upfront payments. But it is unclear whether governments support the plan.

Under the advance purchasing plans, the EU would buy or commit to buying promising vaccines before they are ready, taking the risk of potential clinical failures. In exchange, it would get priority access to the shots.

The bloc has accepted extra risks so as not to lag behind China and the US in the race to a vaccinet.

The commissioner said that the EU executive had already discussed its plans with pharmaceutical companies, but declined to name them. She also did not answer questions about the timing  of the possible advance purchasing deals.

AstraZeneca, France’s Sanofi, and US players Pfizer, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna are among companies trialling vaccines.

EU officials said the bloc would not buy vaccines produced exclusively in the US, fearing that would delay supplies to Europe.

With backing secured for the Commission, it remains unclear whether the wealthiest EU states will continue to pursue parallel talks with drugmakers.

Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands are already in talks with pharmaceutical companies to buy vaccines, a move that could weaken the EU’s joint approach.

Kyriakides said the two initiatives had the same goal. But she added: “Both tracks should converge for the benefits of all 27. This is about working together and not in competition.”


Decreasing purchasing power pushes Turks toward ‘Syrian gold’

An employee displays gold bars at a Korea Gold Exchange shop in Seoul on July 30, 2020. Virus uncertainty combined with China-US tensions has sent gold soaring nearly 30 percent this year. (AFP)
Updated 24 min 16 sec ago

Decreasing purchasing power pushes Turks toward ‘Syrian gold’

  • Economist Umit Kumcuoglu said the increasing use of lower-alloy “Syrian gold” mainly derives from the need to preserve status and tradition, and would not produce a significant impact on the local economy because it was not a counterfeit product

ANKARA: The escalating price of gold in Turkey, in tandem with the global market and the decrease of purchasing power, has led to an influx of lower quality products from Syria.
One, an imitation known as “Syrian gold” due to its popularity with Syrian jewelers, has gone mainstream, having emanated from the jewelry markets of the southern city of Hatay on the Syrian border.
One gram of gold currently costs 437 lira ($62) in Turkey, up by almost two-fifths since January. Having reached near unaffordable levels, the prices have pushed people to turn toward metals with lower values for things such as wedding ceremonies, where pinning 22-karat gold coins and sets of gold jewelry on couples is a Turkish tradition.
Economist Umit Kumcuoglu said the increasing use of lower-alloy “Syrian gold” mainly derives from the need to preserve status and tradition, and would not produce a significant impact on the local economy because it was not a counterfeit product.
“In southeastern tribes, buying gold for wedding ceremonies is an established tradition, and people are inclined to continue this practice amid decreasing purchasing power due to the coronavirus disease outbreak and devaluation conditions in the country,” he told Arab News.
However, according to Kumcuoglu, the ongoing economic challenges, and especially skyrocketing inflation, could push some people to produce counterfeit gold in the future.
Turkey’s central bank became the world’s biggest official-sector buyer of gold in June, according to International Monetary Fund figures. In a bid to support the Turkish lira amid currency concerns, the bank increased its reserves by 890,000 ounces to a record level of 21.28 million in May.
As per the figures published by the World Gold Council, total central bank gold purchases were 139 tons in the first four months of 2020, with the lion’s share of these, 111 tons, coming from Turkey.