EMA chief set to be grilled by MEPs on latest EU bid to boost sluggish vaccination rates

Emer Cooke, the European Medicines Agency executive director, has been invited to an “exchange of views” to update deputies on the state of play of the evaluation and authorisation of COVID-19 vaccines.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

22 Mar 2021

During the meeting with members of Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Security, MEPs will question the Irish official on the latest developments on the issue of vaccines, following the recent authorisation of the Janssen vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson and the precautionary suspension of supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine by several Member States.

Cooke’s discussion with MEPs comes with the EU now at the centre of a major dispute with the UK over claims that the AstraZeneca factory in the Netherlands will be asked to stop exporting any more vaccines to the UK.

At the weekend, Professor Sir John Bell, from the UK government’s vaccine taskforce, said France’s refusal to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to under-55s was “really damaging people's confidence in vaccines generally.”

“It doesn't make any sense, the whole thing looks completely crackers,” he said.

“If there are clotting problems associated with the vaccines - I am not saying there are, but if there were - they are at a very tiny level compared with the problems you get if you get the disease. If you want to die of a clot, get Covid.”

The vaccines dispute will be discussed at an online EU summit on Thursday. The conference was supposed to be in person but will now be online only after a recent big spike in cases in several Member States including Belgium.

An average of 3,438 people a day tested positive in Belgium between 10 and 16 March, a 36 percent increase on the previous week. Belgium, along with Germany, is set to introduce yet more restrictions despite being in an effective lockdown since November.

Parliament’s plenary session resumes on Wednesday 24 March and Coronavirus vaccines will again dominate proceedings.

Ahead of the summit and plenary, the EPP group, Parliament’s biggest, said it “looks forward to a strong signal of unity” from the summit “in defence of our common vaccination strategy.”

EPP Group leader, German member Manfred Weber said, “Citizens expect the EU to defend their interests in the pandemic, especially when it comes to exporting vaccines to countries that are not as open as we are, just as we need a clear perspective of regaining free movement after vaccination, to be prepared for the summer period. We need to adopt the Digital Green Certificate proposal as soon as possible.”

“An average of 3,438 people a day tested positive in Belgium between 10 and 16 March, a 36 percent increase on the previous week. Belgium, along with Germany, is set to introduce yet more restrictions despite being in an effective lockdown since November”

“For us, science comes before politics. We believe it is crucial to step up the vaccination process and vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”

Members of the Budgets Control Committee and the Commission’s Director-General for Health and Food Safety, Sandra Gallina, will also discuss the current state of the EU’s advance purchase agreement on vaccines against COVID-19 on Tuesday.

They will also discuss how much the EU and member states have been spending on vaccines.

Tomáš Zdechovský, EPP spokesman on budgetary control, said, “We want to know from the Commission how much money it plans to mobilise from the EU budget and how much will be collected from Member States for announced new purchases of the vaccines.”

The EU summit will also discuss the planned digital vaccine certificate and, on this, Socialist member Helene Fritzon said, “this proposal can improve coordination between Member States, facilitating citizens to show vaccination, testing and recovery status for medical purposes.”

“The risk of repeating last summer’s patchwork of different and uncoordinated initiatives among Member States, which fragmented the internal market, must be avoided.”

“That being said, we need more solid research and figures demonstrating the long-term immunity period ensured by vaccination or recovery to ensure the reliability of a future certificate.”

“Overall, a common certificate should not create a system that increases the social divides which have worsened manifold during the pandemic, especially not in relation to access to public services and freedom of movement.”

On Tuesday, Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee, together with the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing on the Wirecard scandal, which revealed that the collapsed German payment company Wirecard was able to fraudulently inflate sales and profits due to a failure by the German authorities.

German member Markus Ferber, EPP spokesman in the Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, said, “The supervisory chaos reflects a lack of political leadership, but not a lack of political meddling.”

“The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) rightly criticises the lack of political independence of the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) from the German Finance Ministry.”

“The German Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz has to carry the can for this disaster that has caused significant collateral damage for the entire financial landscape in Germany.”

On Wednesday, MEPs will debate the Commission’s recommendation for a European Child Guarantee, an initiative which aims to combat child poverty.

On the same day, MEPs will also debate and vote on the new EU-Africa Strategy, which aims to move the two continents beyond the “donor-recipient” relationship.

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