EU must 'increase vaccine manufacturing capacities' says European Medicines Agency chief

A medical staff prepares Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris, Friday, March 19, 2021
A medical staff prepares Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris, Friday, March 19, 2021 Copyright Credit: AP
By Euronews with AP
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MEPs grilled European Medicines Agency chief Emer Cooke on the bloc’s vaccination drive, which has come under fire for its slow rollout.

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European Medicines Agency Chief Emer Cooke urged the EU on Tuesday to develop its vaccine manufacturing capacities as she was grilled by MEP on the bloc's vaccine strategy.

“We have to do everything in our collective power to make sure that we have as much manufacturing capability as possible to increase the production of vaccines. Because that's what's going to impact the rollout across Europe,” Cooke insisted.

The EU has been criticised at home and abroad for the slow rollout of its vaccine drive, standing at about a third of jabs given to their citizens compared to nations like the US and UK.

Lawmakers asked Cooke numerous and specific questions such as the timeline for the authorisation of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine or for the release of the EU regulator’s complementary investigations on the possible link between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and the occurrence of rare blood clots.

“Put science back at the forefront,” rather than geopolitics, said Czech MEP Alexandr Vondra from ECR (nationalist political group).

“Science takes time,” Cooke replied in response to comments urging the EU to commit to deadlines and explain the bloc’s slow vaccination rollout.

“It’s very important to understand that we can only give a vaccine approval once we have received all the data,” the EMA boss explained.

Sputnik V to receive "same level of scrutiny"

On Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, Cooke assured lawmakers that future approval would be based on “the same level of scrutiny” as for other vaccines. She added that “preliminary inspections of manufacturing sites” were underway for this vaccine.

Asked about France’s decision to restrict the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to people under 55, considering that reported blood clot cases affected predominantly young women, Cooke said this was the group that had mostly received the AstraZeneca jab in Europe “so it is impossible for us to determine that this population is a higher risk. But this is part of this ongoing investigation.”

Cooke announced a new tool allowing to deliver authorisations faster for a new generation of vaccine tackling virus variants, to have "multiple variants under the same authorisation as it is done for the seasonal flu."

AstraZeneca slammed for production shortfalls

A leading European Union official has lashed out at the AstraZeneca vaccine company for its massive shortfall in producing doses for the 27-nation bloc, and threatened that any shots produced by them in the EU could be forced to stay there.

Sandra Galina, the chief of the European Commission’s health division, told legislators on Tuesday that while vaccine producers like Pfizer and Moderna have largely met their commitments “the problem has been AstraZeneca. So it’s one contract which we have a serious problem.”.

Galina says the overwhelming responsibility lies with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was supposed to be the workforce of the drive, because it is cheaper and easier to transport and was supposed to delivered in huge amounts in the first half of the year.

“We are not even receiving a quarter of such deliveries as regards this issue," Galina said, adding AstraZeneca could expect measures from the EU. "We intend, of course, to take action because, you know, this is the issue that cannot be left unattended."

The EU already closed an advance purchasing agreement with the Anglo-Swedish company in August last year for up to 400 million doses.

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