ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece has suggested EU member states jointly buy patent rights for vaccines against COVID-19 and rapid tests under development to help ensure that if they are effective they are quickly distributed to those in need across the bloc.

In an article published in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said finding a solution for a rapid distribution of vaccines, when they are available, is difficult but also urgent.

At least 20 vaccines against COVID-19 are under development, many of which are subsidised by individual governments or charities, he told FAZ.

“Ideally, once their efficacy has been proven, such vaccines should be distributed as quickly and fairly as possible, and at a reasonable cost,” he said, according to a press release.

Purchasing such patent rights would give global pharmaceutical companies incentives for further research and development and ensure that European taxpayers’ money was “spent sensibly, he said.

The suggestion was recently floated by Elias Mossialos, a professor of health policy at the London School of Economics, who has been appointed Greece’s representative in international talks on tackling the coronavirus.

The cost for patent rights could be distributed among EU countries, Mossialos told Reuters, adding this would be a one-off solution used only in extreme cases such as a pandemic and that it would not affect the sustainability of the medical technology industry.

Securing the patent rights for such tests and vaccines at an EU level would enable their production at many locations and allow for their wide distribution, Mossialos has said.

With more than 130,000 COVID-19 cases, Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic, which has claimed thousands of lives around the world, with Italy and Spain hit the most.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Gareth Jones)