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Brexit ‘means UK less likely to get timely Covid-19 vaccines’

Claim follows concern that the country lacks domestic capacity to make vaccines

The UK has been warned that its Brexit-driven departure from the European Medicines Agency could mean it will have to pay more for a vaccine against coronavirus and wait for longer to get it, if and when one is available.

The EMA is responsible for overseeing clinical trials at EU level and deciding on marketing authorisations for drugs that apply across the EU and that allow pharma companies to sell their products.

“After the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, the UK will be outside the EMA’s rapid authorisation mechanism for pandemic vaccines and medicines for treatment. Consequently, the UK could have to wait longer for these than EU member states,” warn Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Anniek de Ruijter, associate professor at Amsterdam Law School, and Mark Flear, reader in law at Queen’s University, Belfast in a letter published in the Guardian newspaper on 14 March.

Pharmaceutical companies may choose to prioritise the EU when seeking marketing authorisations for vaccines, as it represents a far larger market than the UK, say McKee and his colleagues.

The concerns come as other scientists have warned that the UK lacks its own capacity to manufacture vaccines.

In his budget statement on 11 March, the chancellor said that the government would provide “whatever extra resources our NHS needs to cope with coronavirus…whether its research for a vaccine…whether its millions of pounds or billions of pounds”.

Clarification 23/3—This story has been updated to reflect a clarification to the original letter in the Guardian regarding the fact that the the UK is not currently outside the EMA for authorisations but will be after the Brexit transition period.