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EAPM enjoys great success with virtual German EU Presidency conference,  ENVI adopts EU4Health amendments, EU Beyond 1 Million Genomes Event on 21 October

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Greetings colleagues, and welcome to the first European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update of the week. The autumn weather is drawing in, and COVID-19 restrictions appear to be proliferating, but there is thankfully much good news in the health arena, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan. 

Over and Above: EU Beyond 1 Million Genomes (B1MG) Stakeholders Co-ordination meeting on 21 October, register now

On 21 October, we will be organizing an external meeting for the EU Beyond 1 Million Genomes (B1MG) Stakeholders Co-ordination, which will take place at 8-16h BST/9-17h CET. Register here and read the full agenda here.

The aim of Beyond 1 Million Genomes (B1MG) is to establish the support and coordination structure for the European 1+ Million Genomes initiative (1+MG), which is based upon the commitment of 22 European member states and Norway that have signed the Declaration ‘Towards access to at least 1 million sequenced genomes in the EU by 2022’. 

The purpose of the meeting is to set the framework for engagement through the lens of the Working Packages which include sessions that address the topics of:  Session 1: Setting the Framework for Co-operation; Session II: Ethics, Legal, Societal Impact; Session III: Standards & Quality Guidelines; Session IV:  Federated Secure Cross-border Technical Infrastructure; Session V: Session V: Delivering Personalised Medicine cross-borders: Implementation in Health Care Systems and Societal Impact and finally, Session VI: Communication, Governance and Sustainability. 

EAPM will of course be providing updates and full reportage on the meeting. Register here and read the full agenda here.

EAPM German EU Presidency Conference

On Monday (12 October), more than 200 delegates were in attendance at EAPM’s virtual conference. The event, entitled ‘Ensuring Access to Innovation and Data-rich Biomarker Space to Speed Better Quality of Care for Citizens’, was a great success, with many notable contributions from keynote speakers that truly succeeded in pushing the personalised health debate and discussion forward.

There were contributions from more than 15 European politicians, as well as notable input from the European Commission, European Medicine Agency (EMA) and a multitude of key stakeholders from countries including Germany, which is presently hosting the EU Presidency. Look out for a full report later in the week. 

ENVI adopts all EU4Health compromise amendments

The European Parliament’s health committee has passed all compromise amendments for the EU4Health programme. The amendments establish that the Parliament will campaign from €9.4billion — which was the budget originally proposed by the Commission — for the programme, after the Council reduced this to €1.7 billion during budget talks in summer. The health committee’s report sets the Parliament and Commission on the same side of negotiations against the Council. The vote, planned for Monday (12 October), was delayed until this morning due to technical difficulties. 

Kyriakides sees ‘good co-ordination’ on coronavirus border rules

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides is citing good co-ordination among countries, citing the new agreement on border rules: “The more harmonization we have, the more we’re able to deal with this crisis,” she said. However, Kyriakides stressed that she wants more EU in health. “This is why the Commission proposed an ambitious EU4Health programme to tackle cross border health threats,” she said. 

European health union plans to be unveiled on 11 November

The Commission will propose its new plans for a European health union on November 11, according to a new College of Commissioners agenda. The agenda shows four proposals scheduled for 11 November, including a plan for “building a European health union: preparedness and resilience”, proposing a regulation on handling serious cross-border health threats and mandate changes for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The Commission’s pharmaceutical strategy is nevertheless scheduled for 24 November, and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan for 9 December.

WHO head criticizes 'herd immunity' approach 

The head of the World Health Organization has ruled out a herd immunity response to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease through vaccinations or through the mass spread of a disease. Some have argued that coronavirus should be allowed to spread naturally in the absence of a vaccine. But WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said such an approach was "scientifically and ethically problematic". Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Dr Tedros argued that the long-term impacts of coronavirus - as well as the strength and duration any immune response - remained unknown. "Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it," he said.

Coronavirus travel restrictions – EU ministers agree first step

EU countries have agreed to common criteria and risk assessments that will be used to create a color-coded map labeling the bloc’s areas of coronavirus low-risk (green), medium-risk (orange), high-risk (red) or unknown (gray). Travel to or from green areas would not be restricted.

The deal is a “first step, which of course must also be followed by others,” Germany’s Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth said ahead of the General Affairs Council meeting, stressing that the principles of the Schengen open border area and the internal market must be upheld as much as possible.

The Commission welcomed the agreement: “The coming together of member states sends a strong signal to citizens and is a clear example of the EU acting where it absolutely should,” it said.

Tougher restrictions for London 'inevitable' in 'next few days' 

It is "inevitable" that London will pass a "trigger point" to enter tougher coronavirus restrictions in the "next few days", Sadiq Khan has said. "All the indicators I have, hospital admissions, ICU occupancy, the numbers of older people with cases, the prevalence of the disease, the positivity are all going the wrong direction," the London mayor said. "Which means, I'm afraid, it's inevitable over the course of the next few days London will have passed a trigger point to be in the second tier." The capital is currently in Tier 1 of the government's three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions, which means an alert level of ‘medium’. 

And that’s all for now from EAPM – enjoy your week, stay safe, and look out for our report on the EAPM conference over the next few days.  Once again, register here and read the full agenda for the Beyond 1 Million Genomes (B1MG).

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Support Taiwan’s inclusion in the post-COVID-19 global public health network

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there have more than 40 million cases and more than one million deaths around the world. The virus has had an enormous impact on global politics, employment, economics, trade and financial systems, and significantly impacted the global efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), writes Republic of China (Taiwan) Health and Welfare Minister Dr. Chen Shih-chung (pictured, above left).

Thanks to the united efforts of its entire people, Taiwan has responded to the threats posed by this pandemic through four principles: prudent action, rapid response, advance deployment, and openness and transparency.

Adopting such strategies as the operation of specialized command systems, the implementation of meticulous border control measures, the production and distribution of adequate supplies of medical resources, the employment of home quarantine and isolation measures and related care services, the application of IT systems, the publishing of transparent and open information, and the execution of precise screening and testing, we have been fortunate enough to contain the virus.

As of 7 October, Taiwan had had just 523 confirmed cases and seven deaths; meanwhile, life and work have continued much as normal for the majority of people.

The global outbreak of COVID-19 has reminded the world that infectious diseases know no borders and do not discriminate along political, ethnic, religious, or cultural lines. Nations should work together to address the threat of emerging diseases.

For this reason, once Taiwan had stabilized its containment of the virus and ensured that people had sufficient access to medical resources, we began to share our experience and exchange information on containing COVID-19 with global public health professionals and scholars through COVID-19-related forums, APEC’s High-Level Meeting on Health and the Economy, the Global Cooperation Training Framework, and other virtual bilateral meetings.

As of June 2020, Taiwan had held nearly 80 online conferences, sharing the Taiwan Model with experts from governments, hospitals, universities, and think tanks in 32 countries.

Taiwan’s donations of medical equipment and antipandemic supplies to countries in need also continue. By June, we had donated 51 million surgical masks, 1.16 million N95 masks, 600,000 isolation gowns, and 35,000 forehead thermometers to more than 80 countries.

To ensure access to vaccines, Taiwan has joined the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) co-led by GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; and the World Health Organization. And our government is actively assisting domestic manufacturers in hopes of accelerating the development and production of successful vaccines, bringing them to market as quickly as possible and putting an end to this pandemic.

To prepare for a possible next wave of the pandemic as well as the approaching flu season, Taiwan is maintaining its strategies of encouraging citizens to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, and strengthening border quarantine measures, community-based prevention, and medical preparedness. Furthermore, we are actively collaborating with domestic and international partners to obtain vaccines and develop optimal treatments and accurate diagnostic tools, jointly safeguarding global public health security.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that Taiwan is an integral part of the global public health network and that Taiwan Model can help other countries combat the pandemic. To recover better, WHO needs Taiwan.

We urge WHO and related parties to acknowledge Taiwan’s longstanding contributions to global public health, disease prevention, and the human right to health, and to firmly support Taiwan’s inclusion in WHO. Taiwan’s comprehensive participation in WHO meetings, mechanisms, and activities would allow us to work with the rest of the world in realizing the fundamental human right to health as stipulated in the WHO Constitution and the vision of leaving no one behind enshrined in the UN SDGs.

The opinions expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.

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Latest Eurobarometer survey (July-August): Economic situation is EU citizens' top concern in light of the coronavirus pandemic

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In a troubled period marked by the coronavirus pandemic, trust in the EU remains stable and Europeans trust the EU to make the right decisions in response to the pandemic in the future. In the new Standard Eurobarometer survey released today, European citizens identify the economic situation, the state of member states' public finances and immigration as the three top concerns at EU level. The economic situation is also the main concern at national level, followed by health and unemployment.

In the new Eurobarometer conducted in July and August, concern about the economic situation is reflected in the perception of the current state of the economy. 64% of Europeans think that the situation is ‘bad' and 42% of Europeans think that their country's economy will recover from the adverse effects of the coronavirus outbreak ‘in 2023 or later'.

Europeans are divided (45% ‘satisfied' vs 44% ‘not satisfied') regarding the measures taken by the EU to fight the pandemic. However, 62% say they trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future, and 60% remain optimistic about the future of the EU.

  1. Trust and image of the EU

Trust in the European Union has remained stable since autumn 2019 at 43%, despite variations of public perceptions during the pandemic. Trust in national governments and parliaments has increased (40%, +6 percentage points and 36%, +2 respectively).

In 15 Member States, a majority of respondents says they trust the EU, with the highest levels observed in Ireland (73%), Denmark (63%) and Lithuania (59%). The lowest levels of trust in the EU are observed in Italy (28%), France (30%) and Greece (32%).

The proportion of respondents with a positive image of the EU is the same as that with a neutral image (40%). 19% of respondents have a negative image of the EU (-1 percentage points).

In 13 EU member states, a majority of respondents has a positive image of the EU, with the highest proportions observed in Ireland (71%), Poland and Portugal (both 55%). In 13 other member states, the EU conjures up a predominantly neutral image for respondents, with the highest proportions observed in Malta (56%), Spain, Latvia and Slovenia (all 48%).

  1. Main concerns at EU and national level

Citizens mentioned the economic situation as the most pressing issue facing the EU - over one-third (35%) of all respondents, a strong increase of 16 percentage points since autumn 2019, and rise from third to first concern. Concern about the economic situation has not been this high since spring 2014.

Europeans are also increasingly concerned about the state of member states' public finances (23%, +6 percentage points, the highest level since spring 2015), which moves from fifth to second place on a par with immigration (23%, -13 percentage points), the latter now being at the lowest level since autumn 2014.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, health (22%, new item) is the  fourth most mentioned concern at EU level. The issue of the environment and climate change has lost ground, down 8 percentage points to 20%, followed by unemployment (17%, +5 percentage points).

Similarly, the economic situation (33%, +17 percentage points) has overtaken health as the most important issue at national level, rising from seventh to first position. Although in second position, health has had a notable increase in mentions since autumn 2019 (31%, +9 percentage points), taking it to its highest ever level over the past six years.

Unemployment has also increased considerably in importance (28%, +8 percentage points), followed by rising prices/inflation/cost of living (18%, -2 percentage points), the environment and climate change (14%, -6 percentage points) and government debt (12%, +4 percentage points). Mentions of immigration (11%, -5 percentage points), are at their lowest level for the past six years.

  1. The current economic situation

Since autumn 2019, the proportion of Europeans who think that the current situation of their national economy is ‘good' (34%, -13 percentage points) has declined considerably, while the proportion of respondents who judge this situation to be ‘bad' has increased sharply (64%, +14 percentage points).

At national level, a majority of respondents in 10 countries says that the national economic situation is good (down from 15 in autumn 2019). The proportion of respondents who say the situation of their national economy is good ranges from 83% in Luxembourg to 9% in Greece.

  1. The coronavirus pandemic and public opinion in the EU

Europeans are divided on the measures taken by the EU institutions to fight the coronavirus outbreak (45% ‘satisfied' vs 44% ‘not satisfied'). However, a majority of respondents in 19 Member States is satisfied with the measures taken by the European Union institutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The highest positive figures are found in Ireland (71%); Hungary, Romania and Poland (all 60%). In seven countries, a majority of respondents is ‘not satisfied', especially in Luxembourg (63%), Italy (58%), Greece and Czechia (both 55%) and Spain (52%). In Austria, equal proportions of respondents are satisfied, and not satisfied (both 47%).

However, more than six Europeans in ten trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future (62%). The most frequently mentioned priorities for the EU's response to the coronavirus pandemic are: establish a strategy for facing a similar crisis in the future and develop financial means to find a treatment or vaccine (each 37%). 30% think that developing a European health policy should be a priority.

Europeans' personal experiences of confinement measures were very diverse. Overall, close to three Europeans in ten say that it was fairly easy to cope with (31%), while a quarter say it was fairly difficult to cope with (25%). Finally, 30% say that it was ‘both easy and difficult to cope with'.

  1. Key policy areas

Asked about the objectives of the European Green Deal, Europeans continue identifying ‘developing renewable energy' and ‘fighting against plastic waste and leading on the issue of single-use of plastic' as the top priorities. More than one third think the top priority should be supporting EU farmers (38%) or promoting the circular economy (36%). Just over three in ten think reducing energy consumption (31%) should be the top priority.

Support for the Economic and Monetary Union and for the euro remains high, with 75% of respondents in the eurozone in favour of the EU's single currency. In the EU27 as a whole, support for the eurozone has increased to 67% (+5).

  1. EU citizenship and European democracy

A majority of people in 26 EU member states (except Italy) and 70% across the EU feel that they are citizens of the EU. At a national level the highest scores are observed in Ireland and Luxembourg (both 89%), Poland (83%), Slovakia and Germany (both 82%), Lithuania (81%), Hungary, Portugal and Denmark (all 80%).

A majority of Europeans (53%) say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU. The proportion of respondents who are ‘not satisfied' has increased, by 3 percentage points since autumn 2019 to 43%.

  1. Optimism for the future of the EU

Finally, in this troubled period, 60% of Europeans say they are optimistic about the future of the EU. The highest scores for optimism are observed in Ireland (81%), Lithuania and Poland (both 75%) and Croatia (74%). The lowest levels of optimism are seen in Greece (44%) and Italy (49%), where pessimism outweighs optimism, and France, where opinion is evenly divided (49% vs 49%).

Background

The ‘Summer 2020 – Standard Eurobarometer' (EB 93) was conducted face-to-face and exceptionally completed with online interviews between 9 July and 26 August 2020, across the 27 EU member states, in the United Kingdom and in the candidate countries[1]. 26,681 interviews were conducted in the 27 member states.

More information

Standard Eurobarometer 93

[1] The 27 European Union (EU) Member States, United Kingdom, five candidate countries (Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey) and the Turkish Cypriot Community in the part of the country that is not controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus.

 

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German health minister expects COVID-19 vaccine in early 2021 - Spiegel

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Germany’s health minister expects a COVID-19 vaccine to be available early next year and believes a large proportion of Germans who want the shot could be vaccinated within six to seven months of enough doses being available, writes Caroline Copley.

Jens Spahn (pictured) was quoted as saying in Der Spiegel that a vaccine could be available in January, or maybe in February or March, or even later, but said there would be no compulsory vaccination.

“Of course, it would be best if a vaccine could prevent new infections. But it would also be a benefit if it makes the course of the disease milder,” said Spahn, who tested positive for coronavirus this week.

Daily Bild reported that Germany is making preparations to start vaccinations against the coronavirus before the end of the year.

The paper said the health ministry plans to create 60 special vaccination centres to ensure the vaccines can be stored at the proper temperature and has asked the country’s 16 federal states to provide addresses for them by Nov. 10, Bild reported without citing its sources.

Spahn told Der Spiegel that Germany was securing “considerably more” doses of vaccines then it would potentially need, and said it could sell any surplus shots to other countries or donate them to poorer nations.

He has asked experts, including the ethics council and the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, to decide who should be tested first, but said nurses, doctors and health professionals would be at the top of the list.

Spahn said he wanted to set up a digital appointment system to organize the vaccinations, as well as an app to record possible side-effects.

While ideally there would be a single digital tool to do all this, experience has shown that things can go quickly wrong when being developed under time pressure, so the ministry is planning “several stand-alone solutions”, he said.

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