The European public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic: Lessons for future cross-border health threats


The COVID-19 pandemic cast unprecedented strain on European health systems and European solidarity and demonstrated the need for common European action. The pandemic also revealed deep-seated socio-economic inequalities and institutional weaknesses, with the most vulnerable populations and communities bearing the brunt of the crisis.

The early lessons from the pandemic underlined that challenges to health systems and economies, including supply chain problems and vaccine hesitancy, could no longer be overcome by European Union Member States acting alone. Public health measures needed to be consistent, coherent, and coordinated, to ensure maximal effectiveness. Health was increasingly reinforced as a global public good.

The COVID-19 pandemic intensified discussions on the EU's competences in public health and prompted a reshuffling of EU health policy through the establishment of the European Health Union. On the external front, the COVID-19 pandemic provided a political opportunity for the EU to take a strategic leadership role in global health.

Scope and methodology

This research study analyses the EU's public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It examines five pillars: (1) the EU vaccines strategy and national vaccination strategies; (2) independent scientific evidence on vaccine effectiveness; (3) the EU public health response to COVID-19, addressing the EU framework for crisis response; (4)the EU's prevention and preparedness efforts for future health threats; and (5) considerations regarding EU competences in public health.

This study assesses the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, the current state of play, challenges, and opportunities for improvement to public health governance in the EU, including a series of actionable, evidence-informed recommendations to strengthen the EU's resilience and preparedness for future cross-border health threats. The findings are based on a literature review and interviews with representatives from EU Member State authorities, EU institutions, international organisations, civil society, and private sector actors. The research was conducted from August to November 2022, in the rapidly shifting policy context of EU health policy and pandemic response.