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EU seeks to make vaccines and medicines more accessible

Sou-Jie van Brunnersum with Reuters
June 2, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic is expected to worsen the bloc's shortage in medicines, Brussels is finding ways to "ensure access for its population." Antibiotics, cancer medicines and vaccines are already in low-supply.

Impfstoffe zur Impfung gegen Masern und gegen Windpocken - Impfstoffe zur Impfung gegen Masern und gegen Windpocken,
Image: Imago/photothek/U. Grabowsky

The European Commission (EC) has begun a process to overhaul pharmaceutical manufacturing rules to make medicines and vaccines more easily available, Reuters reported, citing an EC document from Tuesday. 

The decision comes as the European Union continues to combat the coronavirus outbreak amid healthcare insufficiencies and its dependence on foreign supplies of vital drugs and chemicals, mostly from China and India.

Read more: Indian pharmacist dies after drinking coronavirus 'cure'

The Commission cited antibiotics, cancer medicines and vaccines as essential items often in short supply across the bloc, adding that the scarcity is expected to worsen if a COVID-19 vaccine is developed due to an insufficient lab capacity to manufacture large amounts of vaccine doses. 

"The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic clearly demonstrates the need to modernize the way the EU ensures access to medicines for its population," the EC document said.

Longstanding shortage of medicines 

The report also noted that shortages and unequal access to medicines must be taken seriously and that the EC seeks feedback from the public on potential reforms on the regulation of clinical trials and the marketing of medicines, including their production and distribution across the bloc.

Read more: Will coronavirus help 'greedy' pharma reset reputation?

Details of the overhaul are due by the end of the year. Possible changes include making information about medicines increasingly more available online and the EU trying to tackle disparities in drug prices, which are set at a national level.  

The EU has long suffered shortages of medicines but the pandemic has added additional strain with global supply chains being disrupted and supplier countries suspending exports of a number of medicines.

Last week, EU representatives in Brussels proposed a budget of €9.4 billion ($10.5 billion) until 2027 to support these reforms.

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