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EC proposes centralised procurement for European vaccine contracts

Announces wide ranging plan for dealing with cross-border public health threats

The European Commission (EC) has proposed taking charge of vaccine negotiations with pharmaceutical companies in the event of a major public health threat.

The plans are part of its response to the swine flu pandemic of 2009, which led to surplus vaccines in some nations such as the UK, while other EU countries were left with not enough stock to cover the crisis.

Of particular note for pharma companies will be the EC's suggestion that any joint purchasing efforts should be “explored to ensure equitable access at the lowest possible price and to increase authorities' negotiating power”.

GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Pasteur, Baxter and Novartis all saw healthy sales of their respective swine flu vaccines, as did Roche's anti-viral Tamiflu.

But future sales of pandemic vaccines in particular could be hit hard by the EC's plans, and the EC said lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic had been a key influence on its proposals.

In particular it wants to see purchasing procedures for any “medical counter-measures” for a pandemic reviewed to “better adjust the quantities ordered to actual needs”.

European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli was more forthright.

"We all know that the conditions that were imposed by the pharma industry on member states sometimes were not the best of conditions that one would hope," he told Reuters, adding: "They were insisting on secrecy, they were insisting that they would waive responsibility if anything happened."

Other lessons from the swine flu epidemic identified by the Commission include having more flexible plans in case a pandemic is less serious than first thought; greater investment in surveillance of the virus at a European level; and for any business communications to be carried out in a 'generic, simple and flexible' way to allow companies to better prepare themselves.

The use of social media was also highlighted as a possibility channel for reaching new groups with information about the pandemic, with additional plans to build relationships with the media.

The EC is also seeking power to recognise a European health emergency ahead of any declaration from the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to respond more quickly and ensure medicines are made available sooner.

The vaccine and medicine plans are part of a wider EC strategy to tackle public health crises.

It includes extending existing co-ordination mechanisms for communicable diseases to all heath threats caused by biological, chemical or environmental causes, reinforcing the mandate of the Health Security Committee and agreeing Europe-wide emergency cross border measures.

The EC said co-ordinating plans at this larger scale would better protect Europeans from a wide range of health threats, and provide for a fully co-ordinated response in the event of a crisis.

9th December 2011

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