MEPs in talks on holding public hearing with vaccine producers

Call from European Parliament’s Renew Europe Group follows concerns over vaccine availability and deployment.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

27 Jan 2021

The head of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has refused to be drawn on reports that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer deliberately delayed seeking EU approval for its vaccine in order to make sure it got the “best price”.

There have been reduced deliveries to the EU of a vaccine jointly produced by Pfizer and BioNTech and the issue was raised during a European Parliament hearing on the EU’s vaccine policy late on Tuesday.

At the meeting, EMA director Emer Cooke was quizzed by members of the Environment, Public Health and Food Security Committee on vaccine authorisation, availability and deployment.

Among numerous questions she was asked about media reports that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine had been sold to “third countries” – including the UK, classed as a third country after Brexit - on the basis that these had “offered a higher price.”

Reports in the media have suggested that Pfizer may have delayed seeking EMA approval for its vaccine so as to give the company a “longer window” to sell the vaccine to others, such as the UK.

On this, Cooke told MEPs: “I find it hard to speculate on the motivation behind submissions for authorisation from individual companies. What I can do though is to assure you that we work very closely to ensure that any company submits its application for approval as soon as possible.”

“We at EMA share those frustrations and we must see if we can help facilitate additional productions facilities so as to avoid the anticipated delays” European Medicines Agency director Emer Cooke

She said that many MEPs, in the exchange, had voiced “frustration” about supplies and shortages of vaccines.

She said, “We at EMA share those frustrations and we must see if we can help facilitate additional productions facilities so as to avoid the anticipated delays.”

The EU has faced stiff criticism of its vaccine policy. The UK has vaccinated nearly seven million people, more than the rest of Europe combined.

The European Parliament’s Renew Europe (RE) Group of MEPs, meanwhile, welcomed the announcement by the European Commission “to ensure that commitments made to the European Union are honoured.”

An RE statement said, “We echo calls for the vaccine producers to ensure transparency about their production, exports and timetables for delivery.”

RE Group leader Dacian Cioloș said “It is imperative that vaccine contracts are honoured and the European Commission has our full support. The veil of secrecy over production and deliveries must be lifted; we need full transparency. Citizens and member states are rightly concerned, it is time to act and put an end to speculation.”

Cioloș added, “the key to building trust with our citizens is through openness, we owe this to our citizens.’

“Tax payers have the right to know how their money has been spent, and the industry should accept our invitation and help us bring the facts on the table” Nils Torvalds, Renew Europe coordinator on the European Parliament's Environment Committee

The RE Group said they will organise a public hearing in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee with representatives of vaccine producers.

Nils Torvalds, Renew Europe coordinator on the Environment Committee, said: “In an open democracy, the rule must be that everything that does not have to be confidential, needs to be made publicly available.

“Tax payers have the right to know how their money has been spent, and the industry should accept our invitation and help us bring the facts on the table”.

Environment Committee chair Pascal Canfin said he threw his full weight behind the agency, telling Cooke: “I want to reiterate the support of parliament and this committee to your work and EMA decisions. You can count on us. We must avoid fakes news, rumours and over reactions.”

He added, "The pharmaceutical companies have received massive support for the development of the vaccines. Renew Europe has always supported joint efforts from public and private sides. But now they need to honour their responsibility and answer our questions.”

He added, “Therefore, we will propose to other groups to hold a public hearing with CEOs from the industry side in the Environment committee”.

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