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HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 25 March 2021

Media Summary

France may be added to COVID red list regardless of risk to food supply

The Times, Graeme Paton, 25 March 2021

The Times reports that Boris Johnson yesterday confirmed that the Government was considering adding France to its “red list”, severely limiting direct travel from the country. He said the measures may have to be introduced “very soon” to prevent mutant strains of the virus being imported.

The Prime Minister admitted that the move could severely interrupt cross-Channel trade, with particular threats posed to the flow of food and medicines to the UK. Lorry drivers are likely to be exempt but will have to be tested when they enter the UK.

“There is a balance to be struck and what we don’t know is the exact state of the efficacy of the vaccines against the new variants and we have to balance that against the very serious disruption that is entailed by curtailing cross-Channel trade,” Johnson said.

This was reported in a number of outlets, including The Guardian and The Independent.

Coronavirus: EU and UK try to end row with ‘win-win’ on vaccines

BBC News, Editorial staff, 25 March 2021

BBC News reports that the UK and the European Union have said they are working together to improve their relationship, after weeks of tensions over COVID vaccine supplies. In a joint statement, they said they wanted to “create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all”.

The European Commission earlier proposed tougher export controls on vaccines, amid tensions over supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that “blockades” were not “sensible”.

The tougher export controls are most like to affect vaccine-exporting countries that have higher vaccination rates than the EU, such as the UK and US. The key criteria for the proposed regulations are “reciprocity” and “proportionality”.

The BBC’s Europe Editor, Katya Adler, suggests that while the tone of the EU-UK statement was positive, actual progress between the two sides has been described by an insider as “slow, cumbersome and difficult”, on both sides.

This was reported in a number of outlets, including The Financial Times and The Independent.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

Report – Beyond Brexit: food, environment, energy and health

European Union Committee, 23 March 2021

The European Union Lords Select Committee has published its 22nd report of the 2019-2021 session: Beyond Brexit: food, environment, energy and health. In this inquiry, the Committee examined aspects of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) that fall within the remit of the EU Environment Sub-Committee; exploring the provisions in the TCA, any challenges that arise and how they could be resolved, and where UK-EU relations should go from here.

The Committee recognised that many of the sectors analysed as part of the report – including the healthcare sector – benefit substantially from the tariff-free access to the EU market secured by the TCA, but will be affected in other ways. The report’s chapter dedicated to healthcare looks at a number of issues of relevance to the HDA and its member companies, including continuity of supply, mutual recognition procedures, and inspections:

  • Health Minister Edward Argar MP told the Committee that the TCA “delivers on reciprocal healthcare, delivers continuity of supply, and delivers on health security”.
  • Dr Richard Torbett, Chief Executive of the ABPI, told the Committee: “The fact that we will have a tariff-free flow of trade in medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients, which are important for manufacturing, is very welcome.” He added, “We were very pleased to see a pharmaceutical annex to the deal that includes provisions for the mutual recognition of good manufacturing standards and inspections.”
  • The BioIndustry Association agreed: “Mutual recognition of GMP reduces the duplication of bureaucracy for medicines manufactured by one party and exported to the other.”
  • Dr Richard Torbett also told the Committee that the Government had unilaterally decided to recognise the EU’s batch testing for two years, but noted, “After that the implication is that we would have to duplicate all those processes.”

Conclusions and recommendations included:

  • It is beneficial for the UK’s pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries that the TCA allows tariff-free export of medicines and medical devices to the EU.
  • While mutual recognition of Good Manufacturing Practices is helpful for the medical industry, it is disappointing that such recognition has not been extended to other regulatory processes such as batch testing. The Committee noted that the EU has reached mutual recognition agreements with other third countries, and urged the Government to seek a similar agreement.
  • The Committee welcomed the grace period that the Government has secured to allow businesses time to adjust their supply routes to accommodate the post-Brexit application of the Falsified Medicines Directive in Northern Ireland. It also welcomed the Government’s continuing engagement with the sector: if disruption once the grace period has elapsed is to be minimised, it will be essential to explore the alternative possibilities mentioned by the Minister, such as bonded warehouses and cabotage.

 

Full Coverage

France may be added to COVID red list regardless of risk to food supply

The Times, Graeme Paton, 25 March 2021

Travel to and from France may be banned to control the spread of the Coronavirus despite the risk of “very serious disruption” to food and medicine supplies, according to Boris Johnson.

The Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that the Government was considering adding France to its “red list”, severely limiting direct travel from the country. He said the measures may have to be introduced “very soon” to prevent mutant strains of the virus being imported.

He admitted that the move could severely interrupt cross-Channel trade, with particular threats posed to the flow of food and medicines to the UK.

The South African and Brazilian variants, which are more resistant to vaccines, account for up to 40 per cent of cases in parts of France.

The Times was told yesterday that the Prime Minister was coming under pressure from Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, to implement tougher border controls.

Ministers have added 35 countries to the red list, which bans direct travel and prevents foreign nationals who have been in the countries in the previous 10 days from entering the UK. Britons can enter the UK from red-list countries — travelling via a third nation — but have to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel.

The measures affect South America, southern Africa and parts of the Middle East but have not applied to Europe since Portugal was removed from the list earlier this month.

Applying the measures to France would pose huge logistical difficulties because of the flow of trade via cross-Channel ferries and through the Channel tunnel. Lorry drivers are likely to be exempt but will have to be tested when they enter the UK.

The move would also pile pressure on Eurostar, which has been crippled by the lockdown on either side of the Channel, leaving the passenger rail service on the brink of collapse.

At the Commons Liaison Committee yesterday, the Labour MP Yvette Cooper said 2,000 to 3,000 cases of the Brazilian and South African variants had been found in France and asked why the country was not on the UK red list. Johnson said it was “something that we will have to look at”.

“There is a balance to be struck and what we don’t know is the exact state of the efficacy of the vaccines against the new variants and we have to balance that against the very serious disruption that is entailed by curtailing cross-Channel trade,” he said.

“We will take a decision, no matter how tough, to interrupt that trade, to interrupt those flows, if we think that it is necessary to protect public health and to stop new variants coming in. It may be that we have to do that very soon.”

The threat of adding France to the red list was made just as the country removed the remaining travel restrictions imposed on the UK. For the past three months lorry drivers have been forced to register a negative COVID test before crossing the Channel from the UK but will no longer need to do so.

Tests will still be required to drive to Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany.

This was reported in a number of publications, including The Guardian and The Independent.

Coronavirus: EU and UK try to end row with ‘win-win’ on vaccines

BBC News, Editorial staff, 25 March 2021

The UK and the European Union have said they are working together to improve their relationship, after weeks of tensions over COVID vaccine supplies.

In a joint statement, they said they wanted to “create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all”.

The European Commission earlier proposed tougher export controls on vaccines, amid tensions over supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that “blockades” were not “sensible”.

The joint UK-EU statement said that “openness and global co-operation” would be key to tackling the pandemic.

“We are all facing the same pandemic and the third wave makes co-operation between the EU and UK even more important,” it said. “We will continue our discussions.”

But there was little harmony earlier on Wednesday when the Commission announced plans for all vaccine shipments to be assessed on the destination country’s rate of vaccinations and exports. The proposals, which will be put before EU leaders on Thursday, are seen as focused on the UK and US in particular.

Analysis by Katya Adler, Europe Editor

The tone of the EU-UK statement was positive, but actual progress between the two sides was described to me by an EU diplomat as “slow, cumbersome and difficult”. On both sides.

That doesn’t mean impossible, but at their summit on Thursday, some EU leaders – along with the European Commission – will still be pushing for tougher controls on vaccine exports. And they could hit the UK.

EU insiders say they had hoped never to use the controls. They say they want them as a means of exerting pressure on vaccine companies and on countries with vaccine production sites that are not exporting to the EU.

With a third wave of the pandemic hitting much of mainland Europe, EU leaders are coming under increasing pressure to show voters they are taking action to ramp up both the supply of jabs and their vaccine rollout, on both of which they are trailing behind the UK.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides rejected a suggestion that the aim was to punish the UK. “We’re dealing with a pandemic and this is not seeking to punish any countries,” she said.

Asked whether the UK might retaliate, Mr Johnson told MPs he did not believe “that blockades of either vaccines or of medicines, of ingredients for vaccines” would be “sensible”. Companies might draw conclusions about future investments “in countries where arbitrary blockades are imposed”, he added.

What is the EU planning?

The tougher export controls are most like to affect vaccine-exporting countries that have higher vaccination rates than the EU, such as the UK and US.

The key criteria for the proposed regulations are “reciprocity” and “proportionality”:

  • The EU says there is no reciprocity if a country importing vaccines from the EU restricts exports itself either by law or other means, so “it may be appropriate to consider whether exports to this country are justified”.
  • Member states and the Commission will also consider the epidemiological situation in that non-EU country, its vaccination rate and existing availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

There will be no outright export bans, which are opposed by countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium.

Vaccine manufacturers would be assessed to see if they were fulfilling their contract with the EU, although no specific algorithm is planned.

Is the UK being targeted?

In an interview with the BBC, the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton insisted the bloc’s issues were with AstraZeneca and not the UK Government. “I know that there’s some tension… but as long as we have transparency, I think [relations] will be able to be normalised,” he said.

He said if AstraZeneca had provided the agreed 120 million doses to the EU, member states would have been at the same rate of vaccination as the UK: “We have been heavily penalised and we just want to understand why”.

AstraZeneca denies that it is failing to honour its contract with the EU.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are all fighting the same pandemic. Vaccines are an international operation; they are produced by collaboration by great scientists around the world. And we will continue to work with our European partners to deliver the vaccine rollout.”

Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen complained that the EU had exported more than 10 million doses to the UK, but the UK had so far exported none in return.

Her colleagues added that this had to be seen in the context of the EU being both a global COVID hotspot and also the biggest exporter of vaccines. Since the end of January, EU countries have exported 43 million doses of vaccine to 33 countries not subject to export authorisation, they say.

UK sources insist vital components are being sent to the continent, for example for the Pfizer vaccine, and they have emphasised the UK’s role in investing early in vaccine development, BBC correspondent Nick Beake reports.

This was reported in a number of outlets, including The Financial Times and The Independent.

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 25 March 2021

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