Senior MEP condemns UK health minister after Brexit vaccine comments

German EPP deputy Peter Liese took aim at Matt Hancock after his assertion that “because of Brexit” the UK had been able to approve the Pfizer vaccine rather than wait for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to do so.
Peter Liese: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

15 Dec 2020

After the UK became the first western country to license a vaccine against Coronavirus, UK health minister Hancock said that one reason for the quick approval was the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)’s “great job of working with the company to look at that data as it’s come through and do things in parallel, rather than one after the other as they normally would.”

Hancock continued, “The second reason is because, whilst until earlier this year we were in the European Medicines Agency, because of Brexit we’ve been able to make a decision to do this based on the UK regulator, a world-class regulator, and not go at the pace of the Europeans, who are moving a little bit more slowly.”

“We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they’re done because of Brexit.”

But German EPP member Peter Liese accused Hancock of “poisoning the debate about vaccines.”

Liese was speaking at a debate with MEPs from the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke on the latest developments concerning the authorisation of vaccines against COVID-19.

Liese, who is a medical doctor, said, “We want a vaccine soon but we want it to be safe. The UK authorities are good but so too are the other regulators. To say that this – the early approval - is due to Brexit is not true.”

“Whilst until earlier this year we were in the European Medicines Agency, because of Brexit we’ve been able to make a decision to do this based on the UK regulator, a world-class regulator, and not go at the pace of the Europeans, who are moving a little bit more slowly” Matt Hancock, UK health minister

“Other Member State regulators could have done the same but think the EMA process is the more appropriate approach. When the EMA gives approval I am sure the Commission will do the same within 24hrs.”

Jytte Guteland, a Swedish Socialist, said in the debate, “Authorisation needs to be speedy but also we need to know it is safe so I hope the EMA will have robust data from the pharma companies to ensure this. Once we have approval for a vaccine it is important they are deployed in best possible way but ultimately this is a Member State responsibility.”

Dutch Renew Europe member Jan Huitema, said, “I hope authorisation is near but there has been a problem in the UK with people with serious allergies so this has caused a delay in authorisation. Safety is key but so too is good communication and building trust in the population. This is tremendously important.”

EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said that the agency was “close” to giving authorisation to a vaccine which would then be rolled out early in January.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a Commission spokesman explained what it is doing to ensure the smooth roll out of vaccines.

He told this site that its Communication on the Preparedness of COVID-19 vaccination strategies and the deployment of strategies “contains a broad list of recommendations for the Member States to help them with the preparation of their vaccination strategies.”

“We want a vaccine soon but we want it to be safe. The UK authorities are good but so too are the other regulators. To say that this - the early approval - is due to Brexit is not true” Peter Liese, EPP

“It is indeed not enough to develop vaccines; these vaccines also have to be administered to European citizens. This is a very large-scale operation which requires a very solid and well-coordinated preparation, hence our Communication.”

“The transport of the vaccines to the Member States depends on the practical arrangements between the states and the vaccine developer. It is normally up to the vaccine developer to transport the vaccines to the central vaccines hub of the Member State.”

“The further distribution to other vaccination centres in the Member State is the responsibility of the latter. Taking into account the importance of this transport and all related logistical aspects, the Communication also recommends Member States to be well prepared.”

“This should take into account for instance the technical specificities of each vaccine: some vaccines need to be stored at very low temperatures, for instance.”

“The Commission stands ready to offer support to the Member States with regard to transport and logistics, e.g. through the civil protection mechanism.”

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Socialist leader Iratxe García Pérez said, “We must have access to a vaccine, at an affordable price and one that is safe. But we must ensure this is the case both within an outside the EU so we have to extend the external dimension so that non-EU countries have access to a vaccine.”

“We must set out a strategy for this. It is clearly the pandemic will not end until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, so we must apply vaccine policy outside the EU too.”

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