MEPs demand clear answers from pharma CEOs on delayed vaccine supply

A strong public stewardship is needed at European level to expand production capacity

Photo: EP Parliament's ENVI and ITRE committees held a hearing with CEOs of seven pharma firms on Thursday.

The CEOs of seven pharma companies received tough questions by the lawmakers during a public hearing, organised by two EP committees – ENVI and ITRE, on ‘How to increase the capacity of COVID 19 vaccine production and improve delivery’.

Managers and representatives of AstraZeneca, Moderna, CureVac, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Sanofi had to focus on how to remove obstacles to faster commercialisation, manufacturing and distribution of vaccines.

During the Q&A part, MEPs put accents on global technology transfers, sharing patents, and how industry intends to update the vaccines in order to keep up with emerging variants. They also wanted to know how the EU drug regulator EMA could speed up market approval at European level. Some lawmakers asked whether an EU export ban on vaccines would help Europe compared to other countries that have introduced export bans.

Swedish MEP from S&D Jytte Guteland, was very vocal on the "questionable excuses from pharmaceutical companies" trying to justify their failure to respect agreed commitments since the very beginning of the vaccination campaign in Europe.

“This is not acceptable, as Europe has paid for these vaccines in advance with public money and we demand that companies respect the agreements”, she said. Every single day of delay is a failure for our health and the economic recovery.

In the specific case of AstraZeneca, she mentioned that a shortfall of a magnitude above 60% of agreed quotas from December 2020 until end of the first quarter 2021 is unjustifiable, especially if the doses produced in the EU are exported to the UK whilst the EU shortfalls might only be addressed by other global manufacturing sites. “We call on AstraZeneca’s management to ensure that such shameful shortcomings are urgently fixed,” Guteland stressed.

Industry representatives emphasised on  the challenge of building production capacity for entirely new and complex products, and the international nature of supply chains.

Suerie Moon, Co-Director, Global Health Centre, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva advocated for better intelligence on production in her analysis “Why and how to make a bigger pie producing covid-19 vaccine’. She said that a strong, steady, public stewardship needed at European level to expand vaccine production capacity within and beyond Europe. I believe HERA incubator is very important step in this direction, she said. 

She insists for a clearer “real-time information” is needed on production capacities. There is little transparency of 65 finalised manufacturing agreements in public domain and we can not still develop a clear picture. According to her is unavailable, unclear or inconsistent information regarding how many doses will be produced, timelines, technology types and stage of production, locations, technology transfer, output and bottlenecks.

Governments should require this kind of information to be disclosed in the contracts, she urged adding that it is necessary to expand and facilitate technological transfers which are too limited, including through temporary waver on Covid-19 intellectual property.

The European Parliament will play its role fully to win the vaccine deployment battle and the contact group put in place by the Parliament and Commission will further strengthen our role, said Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Chairman Pascal Canfin (Renew Europe, FR).

He underscored that for the first time ever CEOs of the main vaccine manufacturers appearing before elected representatives, and “it is good for transparency, and it is good for democracy”.

According to him, it is crucial to regularly check accountability and commitments made. “Moreover, the race to produce vaccines is intensifying and we are gearing up to use all available tools to support it. This was the point of this hearing”.

Cristian Bușoi (EPP, RO), Chair of Industry, Research and Energy Committee defined that this hearing was an exercise in democratic accountability. Today’s challenge is about how to produce extremely complex products on a scale that is absolutely unprecedented, and this is an industrial challenge, he said.

As he specified, MEPs wanted to know where the production bottlenecks are and to have a clear picture about the industry’s commitments and obligations. “But we also want to help the industry deliver the doses, because our priority is to get vaccination done,” he outlined.

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