EFPIA & Vaccines Europe’s considerations on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the research-based pharmaceutical industry has been committed to working collaboratively across the research and healthcare communities, relying on its world-leading science, people and resources to tackle the outbreak. R&D has given the world safe and effective tools against COVID-19. Yet the current situation underlines the need to address a set of short to medium term priorities:
- Strengthening healthcare system capacities, including through collaboration across professions in the roll out of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, and through adequate monitoring systems across Europe and in lower middle- and low-income countries. Additionally, the infrastructures put in place in decentralised health systems to coordinate decisions, should be maintained, as they can help with catch up programmes for routine immunisation.
- Equally important is to address vaccine hesitancy and ensure infodemic management, as well as public education, via a robust and transparent communication plan, leveraging the range of possibilities offered by digital technologies.
- With a significant risk of new variants emerging, continued R&D and testing of efficacy of current vaccines and treatments against variants of concern remains vital.
In the long term, there are opportunities to be leveraged to be better prepared for future pandemics:
- The research eco-system that has provided the major solutions to health threats such as COVID-19, is built on intellectual property (IP) rights. To enable medical innovation, Europe needs a dynamic and well-funded research eco-system. This means ensuring long-term investment in R&D, skills, networks and health data infrastructure, as well as regulatory flexibility and a supportive IP framework.
- Medical countermeasures, and especially vaccines, are complex products using novel technologies and ingredients. It is therefore important that policies introduced by the EU and national governments aim at strengthening global supply chains to support the production and free flow of such technologies. In particular, the experience gained during the first wave of the pandemic underlined the importance of removing export restrictions, as strongly advocated by the European Commission, and of opening borders to ensure the safe supply of vaccines and medicines to patients across Europe.
- A range of regulatory flexibilities (e.g., on rolling review) provided during the pandemic, can add value beyond emergency situations. The application of such flexibilities should not end with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The pandemic has generated renewed interest in joint procurement for healthcare products, and EU-level coordination of procurement has been able to help with challenges that are specific to a pandemic crisis. However, since joint procurement is complex, potentially leading to access delays, joint procurement procedures should be limited to emergency situations, when the purchase and supply of medical countermeasures cannot be ensured by other means.
- The creation of a European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) is a first step to putting Europe on the front foot in addressing global health threats. To attract long-term investments in high-risk R&D pandemic projects and in sustainable surge capacity during health emergencies, it will be critical for HERA to provide funding at scale.