On Tuesday (22 September) the Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) along with the Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) held hearings with representatives of pharmaceutical companies, researchers, and civil society representatives, to review progress on the development, manufacturing process and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
In its efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 by putting in place an EU vaccine strategy. the European Commission has been negotiating agreements with pharmaceutical companies since June. By mid-August, the Commission reached an initial agreement with AstraZeneca on the procurement of a highly-promising COVID-19 vaccine. A similar advance purchase agreement has been concluded with Sanofi, which is yet to be published. Sanofi was represnted at the hearings.
The Chairman of the ENVI Committee, Pascal Canfin (Renew Europe) asked for more transparency on the state of the research and the bvaccination contracts signed between the EC and companies. The Chairman of the ITRE Committee, Cristian Bușoi (European People’s Party), as company officials for reassurance about the efficiency and safety of the possible vaccines.
European People’s Party MEPs expressed concern over government pressure on companies to manufacture vaccines that could compromise their safety. Socialists and Democrats Party (S&D) MEPs queried the transparency of advanced purchase agreements between the pharmaceutical companies and the European Union, demanding details about the pricing of the vaccines.
MEPs from the RENEW and the Green Party raised the issue of so-called “vaccine nationalism”, fearful that advanced purchase agreements benefit the wealthier nations while leaving developing countries outside the immediate distribution network for the vaccines. They pointed out how the COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis and that vaccines should therefore be considered a public health asset available to all.
The Sanofi’s representative reassured MEPs that his company’s advance purchase agreement fully respected EC tender procedures, reminding Committee members that all EU member states have the option to withdraw from the agreement if they have reservations about the vaccine’s safety.
Sanofi and Curevac representatives affirmed their commitments to producing one billion doses in 2021. A European Medicines Agency (EMA) official reminded the hearing that “there is no vaccine 100% efficient without risk” and pointed out that the “vaccine will only be approved when the benefits outweigh the risks”.