UK Won’t Join EU Vaccine Purchase Plan

14.07.2020 - The UK will not participate in a plan to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine to Europe’s most vulnerable citizens first. Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, said in a letter to the European Commission the British government would not join the effort because as a non- EU member it would have no decision-making power in negotiations about purchases.

It is the same argument the country’s leaders used as the reason for not being part of the European chemicals legislation REACh or the drug regulatory authority European Medicines Agency (EMA). As reports noted, the UK has also not taken part in any of the previous EU joint procurements of personal protective equipment or ventilators despite shortages during the pandemic, despite having the right to do so.

Not least in response to the “me-first” approach to vaccines taken up to now by the US as well as the deal clinched by the UK government with AstraZeneca, the Commission has been talking to leading European and US drugmakers to make advance purchases of any future vaccine.

Under the proposed plan, member states would jointly procure vaccines and therapeutic drugs, and the Commission would distribute doses to the Europeans in greatest need first. The EU’s governing body said it believes the currently 27-nation bloc with 450 million citizens is big enough to negotiate a favorable price.

The Reuters news agency reported that Brussels is talking to US drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and France’s Sanofi, both of which also have deals with the US emergency preparedness agency BARDA.

As is the case with BARDA, the Commission plans to finance part of the upfront costs of vaccine production in exchange for the right to buy a specified number of doses at an agreed price and within a specified timeframe.

This is the same approach Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson was criticized for proposing when he said the US would have first dibs on any successful vaccine the company developed, as long as it was paying. Hudson raised ire in some quarters for saying the EU should create its own BARDA if it wanted to have a competitive chance at getting a vaccine early.

At home, London’s opt-out has come in for considerable criticism, with health charities and opposition members of parliament railing against it. In response, but  without elaborating, UK health secretary Matt Hancock said UK leaders believe there is a quicker way to source a vaccine for the country’s needy citizens.

Hancock hinted that the British government is already conducting its own negotiations with drugmakers and would have to end those if it joined the EU scheme.

Alex Harris, head of global policy at the charity Wellcome Trust, commented that the EU vaccine initiative's cap on how many doses participating countries get” is the best way to ensure there is enough vaccine for those in need in the rest of the world.

"Delivering vaccines according to need and not who can pay the highest price, is not just morally right, but also the fastest way to end this pandemic,” Harris said, while warning that the UK should not set itself up as a competitor.

Munira Wilson, health spokeswoman, for the UK the Liberal Democratic party slammed the Conservative government’s “stubborn unwillingness “to work with the EU in the current crisis “unforgivable.”