Small countries like Malta should have peace of mind when the next influenza pandemic strikes following an agreement signed by most EU member states.

Health Parliamentary Secretary Chris Fearne signed the Joint Procurement Agreement during a ceremony organised by the European Commission at the end of the European health council in Luxemburg on Friday.

“The agreement is an important development that guarantees adequate vaccine procurement in the event of a future influenza pandemic... and ensures the Maltese population will be well covered,” Mr Fearne said.

This agreement comes after the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic highlighted the need to strengthen member states’ mechanism to procure vaccines and medications.

Inevitably, at the time, member states were competing with each other for limited amounts of available vaccine, which weakened their purchasing power.

The mechanism aims to improve solidarity between participating member states by guaranteeing minimum levels of access to pandemic influenza vaccines and improving purchasing power.

“The council also discussed the excessive high prices being placed on new drugs and urged the pharmaceutical industry to keep public health considerations foremost when structuring prices,” Mr Fearne said.

Participating states can extend the agreement to cover other infectious diseases, such as botulism, anthrax, hepatitis B or polio.

Signing the agreement does not imply any immediate financial commitment and this will only be necessary when they sign contracts following procurement.

The first meeting of the Joint Procurement Agreement Steering Committee will be convened once one-third of EU countries ratify the agreement. At this meeting, member states will decide which medical countermeasure they want to buy jointly.

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