Statement by President von der Leyen, Prime Minister of Belgium De Croo, CEO of Pfizer Bourla, and co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of BioNTech Türeci, following the visit to the Pfizer manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium

Thank you so much, Dr Bourla, dear Albert. Thank you very much for the hospitality. Indeed, it was an impressive tour through the manufacturing site. So thanks very much for that.

Prime Minister, dear Alexander,

Dear Özlem Türeci,

We are meeting here today at a place which symbolises three true European stories. First, indeed the European vaccination campaign that is picking up speed right now. Second, Europe is leading worldwide on revolutionary, life-saving mRNA. And third, in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, Europe is the global vaccine champion, making vaccines available to the rest of the world.

Let me start with the vaccination campaign. This week, we pass the mark of 150 million doses delivered. In terms of deployment, we have already passed 123 million vaccinations. With this, the European Union is among the top three in terms of COVID-19 vaccinations worldwide, after the United States and China. So in other words: The EU’s vaccination campaign is on track!

Yes, we have had difficulties at the very beginning: delays and production bottlenecks. But we were able to counter them due to our broad vaccine portfolio and also thanks to strong and reliable suppliers like BioNTech-Pfizer. Indeed, the main vaccine used so far in the European Union is the one produced right here in Puurs, in Belgium – a true vaccine powerhouse. And with the enormous efforts of BioNTech-Pfizer and the acceleration of their vaccine deliveries, I am now confident that we will have sufficient doses to vaccinate 70% of the adult population in the European Union already in July. And this pioneering technology we see here will help us with that.

This leads me to the second success story: This manufacturing site was the first to produce an mRNA vaccine at large scale in Europe. I saw the Lipid Nano Particle Skid earlier – that was impressive to see that, when we were visiting the site. And I was told that this is a machine that plays the crucial role in the production of mRNA vaccines. The first one ever was built right here in Puurs, in that lab, last summer. A groundbreaking innovation. And this pioneering technology could be the backbone of our future vaccine portfolio. Indeed, mRNA vaccines will be central to the EU’s preparedness plan for fighting COVID-19 and other viruses.

We are working with BioNTech-Pfizer on a new contract. This contract will foresee the delivery of 1.8 billion doses for the years 2021 to 2023. We will conclude it in the next days. It will secure the doses necessary to give booster shots to increase our immunity against this virus. It will provide vaccines adapted to escape variants that no longer respond to the vaccines. And it should enable us to vaccinate – if necessary and safe – children and teenagers.

And it will consolidate Europe’s leadership in mRNA technologies. The story of COVID-19 vaccines is that of groundbreaking science, of pioneering spirit – dear Özlem, and Uğur Şahin; and a miracle of manufacturing – Albert Bourla and your crew; and an incredibly enabling environment of the host country – so Alexander. Without that, it would not be possible.

This vaccine has been developed in less than one year. It was unheard of. It seemed impossible only a few years ago. Never before have we seen so many successful vaccine candidates that were actually approved around the world. And never before have we seen such manufacturing scale-up and such cooperation across the industry, across countries, across the globe.

In just one year, this manufacturing site is producing one billion doses. In this respect, I have good news: our European Medicines Agency has just approved the increase of this site’s production capacity by a further 20%. This will make it one of the biggest vaccine fill and finish sites in Europe. I would like to thank the workers of this manufacturing site for their extraordinary efforts we were witnessing when they were telling us about it; for working around the clock since many, many months to produce vaccines for Europe and for the rest of the world.

And this brings me to my third and last point: This place is also a symbol for the European Union’s fairness and openness. Europe is producing vaccines for Europeans and for citizens around the world. We have exported more than 155 million doses of vaccines to over 87 countries worldwide since December.

To be clear: We have exported as much as we have delivered to EU citizens. We are the pharmacy of the world. And we Europeans take pride in this and we invite others to join. Because we all know: Nobody will be safe until everybody is safe.


Answers of the President during the Q&A session:

Q1 When do you think that each European will have his/her first jab? What is the plan?

President von der Leyen: You know that we had the plan initially to have vaccinated 70% of the adult population in Europe, end of summer, which is in September. But as we see right now, production is increasing; the deliveries are increasing; we have stable processes; we stick together; we overcame the initial problems. Now, this really pays off, which shows also the visit here today. We are by now at 123 million vaccinations. So therefore, we are confident that we will be able to increase our ambition and to say we want 70% of the adult population in Europe being vaccinated in July already.

Q2 Can you describe this objective again, Ms von der Leyen, also vis-à vis other manufacturers such as AstraZeneca?

President von der Leyen: Things did indeed get off to a difficult start. But we worked hard and, above all, we stuck together — with science, with the manufacturers — but we also stuck together as Europeans. And that is now paying off. We are seeing a great improvement in the figures. Production is now very stable. That is why today the European Medicines Agency gave BioNTech-Pfizer the good news that it can increase production at this plant by 20%. Deliveries to Europe are increasing. In the first three months we delivered 100 million doses in Europe. In three weeks that figure has now risen to 150 million doses. The pace of vaccination is increasing, with 123 million jabs delivered. And adding everything up — the hard work but also now the clear improvement in the numbers — then I am confident that we can strive to have 70% of Europe’s adult population vaccinated as early as July.

Q3 Just two short questions for President von der Leyen. One: When could the European population see the end of the COVID-19 tunnel? Two: Could you confirm that the European Union is going to undertake a legal action versus AstraZeneca?

President von der Leyen: What we are seeing and we are doing with all our strength and power is a race against the virus. And I think today is the living proof here how we will overcome this virus: by sticking together and working together with science, with the manufacturing, as Europeans. Whatever we can do to develop vaccines, to produce vaccines, to deploy and vaccinate people. This is the most important tool we have to overcome the crisis. And therefore, as we see the numbers are rising, as we see that vaccination is improving, we also see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And I think this gives a lot of motivation. What AstraZeneca is concerned, no decisions have been taken so far. So we have to wait for that.

Q4 President, today you are making a big announcement. You are essentially saying that herd immunity will happen two months before schedule. I wonder: Will the distribution in terms of the vaccines get you to that point? Is this purely based on the acceleration and Pfizer? And then two: Shall we read this as mRNA is now clearly your favorite technology going forward?

President von der Leyen: To answer both questions: We will win this fight against the virus, also because of a broad vaccine portfolio, but this is in combination with the enormous effort of BioNTech-Pfizer to increase the production and the deliveries – so we negotiated together a second contract already early in January – and to accelerate the delivery of vaccines. So again, my respect and thanks also to this site here to make this possible. This is crucial. What the vaccination strategy for the coming years is concerned, I have outlined the challenges: going from vaccinating potentially children and teenager, to having a boost to increase immunity after a certain amount of time, and mainly to prepare for escape variants that might occur. And there, the technology of mRNA is incredibly agile. So there is a limited amount of time that is needed to, if I may say so, engineer the mRNA in a way that it can adapt to potential escape variants. This is the beginning for the preparedness in the medium term. We will certainly add other potential vaccines, for example protein-based vaccines have also quite a potential. But I must say, included in our plans are also the questions of how reliable a partner is, how much a partner has proven that he can deliver – and this is exactly what BioNTech-Pfizer has done. We went through initial difficulties and the experience of overcoming together difficulties, of working hard together and sticking together – and being in this is a marathon – and really not giving up. This was a very good experience. That builds trust. And on this trust, I think, we can also build the future.