The coronavirus and the vaccines currently under development
Currently, a preventive vaccine against the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) does not exist. More than 200 different vaccine candidates are being developed, two of which in Finland.
Usually, developing vaccines against viruses takes several years, even decades, and only a small portion of them are successful. Efforts are being made worldwide to speed up research and development work on coronavirus vaccines. Some of the vaccines under development are based on new technologies that have not yet been used.
A vaccine can be approved for sale once it is shown to be safe and effective enough. Marketing authorisations for Europe are issued by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
On its website, the World Health Organization (WHO) publishes an updated list of all the vaccine candidates currently under development:
Finland’s objectives to protect the population
Finland’s objective is to protect the entire population with vaccines once a safe and effective option against the novel coronavirus becomes available.
Vaccinations aim to prevent infections, to alleviate the symptoms of infection and to prevent the more serious forms of the COVID-19 disease and COVID-19-related deaths. At the same time, we can prevent the spread of the virus and ensure the capacity of the healthcare system and the functioning of society.
What stage is Finland at in procuring a vaccine?
All vaccines against the coronavirus are still in the development and testing phase. Therefore, Finland cannot follow the customary process used in the procurement of vaccines covered by the national vaccination programme.
Finland aims to ensure an effective vaccine as soon as possible. Finland is participating in the joint EU agreement to purchase coronavirus vaccines and in Covax, an international mechanism working to ensure equitable access to vaccines.
International cooperation in vaccine procurement
COVAX promotes rapid and equitable access to vaccines and supports increasing the capacity of vaccine production.
COVAX is led by the international alliances CEPI and GAVI. CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) is responsible for financing the development and production of vaccines and epidemic preparedness. GAVI (the Global Vaccine Alliance) prepares purchase agreements and procures vaccines for developing countries. By participating in COVAX, developed countries can also get a share of the vaccines.
The objective of the mechanism is to acquire two billion vaccines by the end of 2021.
Finland announced on 31 August 2020 that it would take part in the COVAX mechanism but that it would decide later whether or not to purchase any potential vaccines. Finland has also agreed not to purchase any such vaccines through COVAX that are under negotiation in the EU joint procurement process.
Joint EU agreement to purchase vaccines
The EU is collaborating to procure coronavirus vaccines to cover the needs of the EU Member States. This provides an advantage in bargaining, as a larger order quantity brings more leverage in the challenging market situation. The European Commission is negotiating advance purchase agreements with several vaccine producers on behalf of the Member States. The EU is also committed to global solidarity to ensure equitable access to vaccines.
Multiple vaccine candidates are being assessed in the EU joint procurement process. On behalf of the EU Member States, the European Commission is negotiating advance purchase agreements with vaccine producers to support them in the rapid development and production of the vaccine. The Commission will also conclude preliminary agreements on vaccine purchases if the vaccine candidates are proven safe and effective against the coronavirus.
The EU advance purchase agreements are being financed through the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI). All 27 Member States have joined the Agreement.
The EU has reached an advance purchase agreement with AstraZeneca, and all 27 Member States have joined the agreement. The EU has concluded exploratory talks with SanofiPasteur, Johnson & Johnson and Curevac. The EU is also negotiating with other producers.
Everyone in Finland will get vaccinated — if they want to
The coronavirus vaccine would become a part of the national vaccination programme. Getting vaccinated would be voluntary and free of charge.
There are several things to consider before Finland can make any decisions on the number of vaccines it will purchase. These include for which people and age groups the vaccine is approved, how many doses are needed to achieve effectiveness and within which time frame the vaccines should be administered.
The vaccines will be made available to the entire population. The national vaccination expert group (KRAR) and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) are participating in preparing the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine strategy with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
According to the vaccine strategy, health and social workers and other essential workers will likely be among the first people to be vaccinated. This would ensure that they remain healthy and are able to maintain the capacity of the health care system and the functioning of society. In addition, those medically defined risk groups that have a higher risk of developing severe symptoms and people who are at a higher risk because of their age will be among the prioritised groups.
These target groups will have to be reassessed as new information becomes available about the COVID-19 disease and the effectiveness, safety and availability of the vaccines.