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#Greece - Further EU support for refugees on #Lesbos

EU Reporter Correspondent

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More EU countries are offering help to Greece through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism following the fire that affected the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos. New offers of assistance have now been received from Slovakia, Hungary, France and Slovenia and include items such as tents, blankets, sleeping bag and mobile toilets. This adds to the offers already received this week from Poland, Denmark, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Germany.

Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: "Our Emergency Centre continues to coordinate the delivery of essential supplies to Greece. I thank Slovakia, Hungary, France and Slovenia for their strong EU solidarity. We will support Greece all the way.”

The new support comes on top of assistance sent earlier this year by Austria, Czechia, Denmark, Netherlands, and France which includes housing units, sleeping bags, mattresses, blankets, sheets, toiletries items, four medical containers, and one medical station. Moreover, responding to a previous request for EU assistance in the beginning of March, 17 member and participating states offered over 90,000 items to Greece through the Civil Protection Mechanism.

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EU must be united over Russian, Chinese COVID-19 vaccines: French minister

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A French cabinet minister urged EU countries on Friday (5 March) not to use the Russian or Chinese COVID-19 vaccines unless they are approved by the bloc’s medicines regulator, warning of a risk to the bloc’s unity and public health, writes Sudip Kar-Gupta.

After a fitful start to the European Union’s vaccination campaign which has left the bloc lagging other countries such as Britain, some member states in central Europe have already bought or are considering buying Russian or Chinese shots.

Asked whether each EU member state was now simply doing “what they wish themselves”, European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune (pictured) told RTL radio: “If they were to choose the Chinese and/or Russian vaccine, I think it would be quite serious.”

“It would pose a problem in terms of our solidarity, and it would pose a health risk problem, because the Russian vaccine is not yet authorised in Europe,” he said.

The EU has so far dealt with vaccine procurement centrally, through the executive European Commission.

But Sputnik V has been approved or is being assessed for approval in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Hungary has already started inoculating people with Sinopharm and Sputnik V, and Poland has discussed buying the Chinese vaccine.

Europe’s medicines regulator (EMA) said on Thursday it had started a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. But even if it is approved, there is no obligation for the European Commission to include it in our portfolio.

Europe has so far approved vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech,, Moderna and AstraZeneca/Oxford, while ongoing reviews for CureVac andNovavax’s candidates are underway.

The EMA is expected to give its verdict on J&J’ssingle-shot vaccine on March 11.

Hungary was the first EU country to grant the Russian vaccine emergency national approval in January, Slovakia hasordered shipments, and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has said his country could move to use Sputnik V.

The Italian region of Lazio said it would seek 1 million doses of Sputnik V if approved by the EMA, while the government of the tiny independent enclave of San Marino said it had started using the Russian vaccine this week.

Polish President Andrzej Duda has also talked with Chinese leader Xi Jinping about buying the Chinese COVID-19 shot. Some in Russia tout Sputnik V as a potential “bridge” between Russia and Europe. The European Commission says there are no talks under way for now about buying Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

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Shake off your ill will, Britain tells EU over post-Brexit trade

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The European Union should shake off its ill will and build a good relationship with Britain as sovereign equals, Britain’s top EU adviser David Frost (pictured, left) said on Sunday (7 March), promising to stand up for the country’s interests, writes Elizabeth Piper.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Frost again defended Britain’s unilateral move to smooth post-Brexit trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, over which the EU has promised to launch legal action for breaching the terms of the Brexit deal.

Since Britain left the EU last year, relations between the two have soured, with both sides accusing the other of acting in bad faith in relation to part of their trade agreement that covers goods movements to Northern Ireland.

Frost, who led Britain’s negotiations to secure a trade deal with the bloc, was appointed as a minister and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s main point man for future ties with the EU earlier this year and looks set to take a firmer approach.

“I hope they will shake off any remaining ill will towards us for leaving, and instead build a friendly relationship, between sovereign equals,” he wrote in an opinion piece.

“That is what I will be working towards, acting constructively when we can, standing up for our interests when we must – as a sovereign country in full control of our own destiny.”

He again defended the British government’s extension of a grace period for checks on some food products imported by retailers to Northern Ireland as being “lawful and consistent with the progressive and good faith implementation” of part of the post-Brexit trade deal called the Northern Ireland protocol.

But he added: “Without this threat of disruption, we can continue our discussions with the EU to resolve difficulties arising from the protocol constructively – and we aim to do so.”

Northern Ireland’s future was bitterly contested during the Brexit negotiations. London ultimately agreed to leave the British-ruled province aligned to the EU’s single market for goods to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, fearing it could be detrimental to the 1998 peace agreement that ended decades of conflict in the province.

This has required checks on some items arriving in Northern Ireland from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, which some businesses say has made it difficult to bring in supplies. To address that issue, the British government extended the grace period for some checks until 1 October.

The EU disputes that the grace period extension was in line with the agreement, saying London should honour what it signed up to. It has promised to launch legal action, or a so-called “infringement procedure” against Britain.

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Last chance to register for EAPM EU Presidency Conference

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Hello, health colleagues, and welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update – we are looking forward very much to the 9th EU Presidency Conference, under the auspices of the Portuguese EU Presidency, which takes place online on Monday, 8 March from 9-16h CET – the aim of the game is all about establishing a health policy framework across the EU, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

EU Presidency Conference
The EAPM conference will feature a wide range of keynote speakers from across the EU, including Christine Chomienne, vice chairwoman of the Mission Board Cancer at the European Commission and professor of Cellular Biology at the Université deParis, France, MEP Pernille Weiss, and Daria Julkowska, co-ordinator of the European Joint Programme on Rare Diseases.

In terms of the themes undertaken by the conference, these will include propelling health care through an effective governance framework, and update on the Europe Beating Cancer Plan, and the role of biomarkers and advanced molecular diagnostics.

Health-care systems are not always ready to respond to the opportunities. The disruptive nature of personalised care challenges traditional patterns of thinking. Practices, presumptions and even prejudices that date from before the millennium resist a 21st century approach to healthcare.

The conference will be seeking to move towards establishing a policy framework, in order to realize the potential of personalised health care, and not only in Europe: Europe’s engagement in global research and scientific enterprise can benefit the population of the entire planet.

As far as the conference is concerned, it is absolutely clear that it is necessary to formulate a personalised healthcare-centred strategy involving decision makers and regulators in the arena of public health, to enable the EU and member states to contribute to integrating personalised medicine into clinical practicewhile enabling much-greater access for patients.

For the opening session, which is entitled propelling health care through an effective governance framework, at the start of the 2020s, wide-ranging changes are under way in European society and governance, with a new European Commission, a freshly-elected European Parliament, and a growing conviction among Europe’s policymakers that people must be at the centre of any successful and sustainable strategy. The ambition of new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is a Europe that ‘must lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world’. And Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides acknowledges that “European citizens expect the peace of mind that comes with access to health care… and protection against epidemics and diseases.”

The second session deals with the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan, and the conference will examine the new technologies, research and innovation that the Cancer Plan is taking as a starting point, in terms of setting out a new EU approach to cancer prevention, treatment and care.

Europe's Beating Cancer Plan will be supported by actions spanning across policy areas from employment, education, social policy and equality, through marketing, agriculture, energy, the environment and climate, to transport, cohesion policy, and taxation. A total of €4 billion is being earmarked for actions addressing cancer, including from the EU4Health programme, Horizon Europe and the Digital Europe programme. Expectations have been heightened by European strategists’ attachment to three key ingredients for courageous transformation: incentives, innovation, and investment. These reflect the pre-conditions for boosting health care into higher levels of efficiency, where the value of personalised medicine approaches can be fully appreciated and make its full contribution to Europe’s citizens.

This discussion of personalised health-care depicts a Europe where many chances for improvement are not yet fully being taken up. But this is not merely a catalogue of deficiencies. The variations and inefficiencies it presents are an argument for triggering radical rethinking, and for making the most of personalised health care. It highlights the endorsement of incentives, innovation, and investment by a new breed of Europe’s leaders. And it focuses on the ambitions that would support the development of personalised health care, diagnostics and medicines.

Everyone - from newborn babies to the elderly, from sufferers from chronic disease to acute cancer patients, and from health ministries to funding agencies - stands to gain. The price is nothing more than a shift in policy. The prize – in terms of value to the economy and to lives - is priceless.

As far as the role of biomarkers and advanced molecular diagnostics is concerned, the conference will also deal with this important subject in a latter session - today, biomarkers have immense scientific and potential clinical value in the diagnostic testing pipeline. They span the broad diagnostic sector from the genome to the phenome over various ‘-ome’ levels and have been used since the earliest days of the application of molecular biology. A biomarker signature is capable of revealing specific biological traits or measurable physiological changes, according to a disease status, physiological or pathological condition, or after drug application.

An understanding of biomarkers ties in to the existing new understanding of epidemiology, precision medicine, and pharmacogenomics, the deployment of technologies such as genomics, single cell sequencing, microbiome analysis and transcriptomics, and the opportunities arising from bioinformatics and digital innovations, which can be transformative for individual patients.

As novel gene-based diagnostics proliferate, they will be increasingly important to drug development, approval and later in clinical practice. There are numerous promising singular biomarkers or more complex multiple biomarker signatures available, the most important of which are currently used for assessing drug development, patient stratification or measuring the efficacy of treatment in therapeutic medicine. Clearly there is a translation problem to transfer the results from molecular diagnostics research to drug development and finally clinical practice. In future, biomarkers and their interaction on various levels will increase the molecular and cellular knowledge of disease and drug mechanisms.

To register for the conference, click here and click here for the agenda.

Von der Leyen proposes EU-wide health passport

The European Commission will present legislation for a digital health pass before the end of March. The announcement follows a virtual meeting between EU leaders last week, where Greece and Austria urged other states to adopt vaccination passports in order to restart travel and tourism. However, others remain on the fence due to concerns over vaccine efficacy and discrimination. Following the discussion of vaccines and travel restrictions by EU leaders during the European Council video conference, the bloc is taking further steps to reintroduce travel across the continent. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet that legislation is being prepared for a ‘Digital Green Pass’. This will serve to provide proof of vaccination, test-results for “those who couldn’t get vaccine yet”, or information on COVID-19 recovery.

Von der Leyen, who has been the Commission’s president since December 2019, said that the digital pass was needed to facilitate Europeans’ lives. The proposal, she said, will be finalized and presented before the end of March.

That is everything for this week from EAPM – remember, registration is still open for the EU Presidency conference but only until the end of today (5 March) – 150 people have already signed up, click here to register and join them, and click here for the agenda. To those who will attend, EAPM looks forward very much to joining them on 8 March – stay safe and well, and have an excellent weekend.

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