EU Leaders Vent at Drugs Regulator Over Slow Vaccine Approval

A group of European Union leaders pressed the bloc’s drugs regulator to green light coronavirus vaccines faster, after its executive arm recommended a target for inoculating at least 70% of the region’s adult population by summer.

The EU’s 27 government heads must “send out a strong signal to the European Medicines Agency on Thursday to ensure the approval procedure for vaccine candidates is as efficient as possible,” the leaders of Greece, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Austria said in a joint letter to summit chair Charles Michel. He will host a Jan. 21 EU video conference on the pandemic.

The bloc has consistently lagged countries such as the U.K. in approving vaccines to combat the global pandemic. The EU’s drugs regulator is due to discuss whether to approve AstraZenecaPlc’s Covid-19 shot, already authorized in Britain, later this month. Across the region, governments are tightening lockdowns and considering new curbs to keep the virus at bay as they await far-reaching vaccine roll out programs.

“We are in a global health crisis where every day counts to save lives,” the leaders said in their letter obtained by Bloomberg. “We therefore expect EU agencies to work as fast as possible.”

The letter was sent after the European Commission’s unveiled its latest Covid-19 plan, urging national governments to vaccinate at least 80% of health workers and people over the age of 80 by March, and 70% of all adults by summer. The Commission also urged restrictions on non-essential travel to remain in place until the pandemic is under control.

The tone signals growing frustration by some governments about what they see as delays in the authorization of coronavirus jabs.

The intervention highlights the EU’s balancing act in seeking to roll out vaccines quickly while ensuring public confidence in their safety and in the independence of the EMA. The European drugs regulator has endorsed two other candidates over the past month after moving forward scheduled deliberations amid political calls for faster action.

European governments are facing a growing backlash over repeated extensions of lockdowns, which have exacerbated the steepest recession in living memory. The EU lags behind other developed nations, including the U.K., Israel, and the U.S. in terms of the share of its population inoculated.

With the virus killing more than 400,000 people in the EU since the spring of 2020 and hobbling the European economy, the bloc is setting its hopes on vaccines from various drug makers while urging stepped-up testing and tracing.

13 Million Doses

“We are still far from overcoming this pandemic,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told the European Parliament on Tuesday.

While health policy is largely a national responsibility in the EU, the commission is pushing member countries to act in coordinated ways to tackle the coronavirus -- including when it comes to the procurement of vaccines. The commission has secured around 2.3 billion vaccine doses for the bloc as a whole through advance purchase agreements.

So far, more than 13 million doses have been delivered to EU countries, the commission said on Tuesday. These are the vaccines from Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE, which have delivered 12.3 million doses to date, and from Moderna Inc., which has delivered 850,000 doses so far, according to the commission. More than 5 million vaccinations have been administered across the EU.

“We will need to ramp up the supply of vaccines,” the commission said. “The commission and member states should work together with companies to ensure that new production comes on stream as quickly as possible.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.