EU pharma boss says ‘not possible’ to predict COVID-19 vaccine date

Nathalie Moll: “We understand and we share really everybody’s hope and desire for a vaccine quickly but that can never be done at the expense of safety.” [Photo by Sarantis Michalopoulos]

It’s impossible to predict exactly the timeframe necessary for a COVID-19 vaccine to become available, said Nathalie Moll, director-general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

“We understand and we share really everybody’s hope and desire for a vaccine quickly but that can never be done at the expense of safety,” Moll said in an interview with Greece’s MEGA TV channel.

Discussions over when a much-awaited COVID-19 vaccine could become available has heated up across Europe. An EU official last week expressed hope that a first vaccine could get market authorisation as soon as November.

Commission hopes for COVID-19 vaccine market authorisation in November

The European Commission hopes for the first COVID-19 vaccine to have market authorisation in November, an EU official said yesterday (3 September). However, a timeline for its distribution is still unknown.

But the pharma industry has now dampened those expectations. “A lot of things have been said by a lot of people, I know that there are also rumours that the European Medicines Agency is talking about August next year for marketing authorisation,” Moll said.

“So, I think we need to make sure that we stick to actual announcements rather than rumours and then make sure that we have done all the safety and efficacy testing that we need to have absolute confidence to the vaccine,” she added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said last week that it does not expect widespread vaccination against COVID-19 until mid-2021.

140 candidate vaccines are under development across the world, 30 of which have entered the clinical trial phase.

Russia has been the first country globally to register a COVID-19 vaccine for local use.

Last week, Russian scientists published the first report on the vaccine, claiming that early tests showed signs of an immune response.

Asked about the Russian vaccine, Moll replied:

“Certainly, our companies would only feel comfortable putting something in the market if it had been approved by the European Medicine’s Agency but also has a general and global acceptance,” she said, explaining that this is the way the EU pharma industry is planning to go.

Moll was also asked about the issue of compensation in case of side-effects from a vaccine.

“The compensation is something managed at the member state level, but you cannot exclude a different kind of compensations system that may be European. Just like at the moment you are having joint procurement for a vaccine, it could be an idea,” she said.

“We have not seen anything like that but we have seen patient groups calling for a European compensation fund for COVID-19,” she added.

She then referred to EU healthcare systems in the post-pandemic era, saying policymakers needed to learn the lessons from the crisis.

“We have seen through COVID-19 the link that exists between health and economy […] And I don’t think that we can afford to underinvest in health systems now”.

“We have some lessons learnt with COVID, we have learnt about solidarity, digital, optimising and wasting. Can we now apply to re-building healthcare systems that are very resilient in Europe and serve the patient?” Moll wondered.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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