EU’s position as vaccines leader “at risk”, report reveals

Patient receiving vaccine

The EU has historically been a leader in vaccine research, development and manufacturing, but is now seeing a decline in vaccine research, according to data published by Vaccines Europe (VE).

The EU has hosted approximately 20% of global vaccine clinical trials over the past two decades, as well as research facilities affiliated with the world’s largest vaccine companies.

The Covid-19 pandemic further cemented the EU’s footprint as a leader in the vaccine ecosystem when by January 2022, the region had contributed to nearly 40% of the world’s Covid-19 vaccine exports.

However, the vaccines industry in the EU is also grappling with many challenges. Limited funding, incentives and support for diverse vaccine types and platforms are barriers to early-stage vaccine research.

Further, complex clinical trial requirements and lengthy timelines have led companies to move elsewhere, resulting in 56% fewer biotech’s involved in vaccine research in the EU compared to the United States per capita.

Additionally, current data shows a 35% relative decline in the share of global vaccine clinical trials conducted in the EU since 2000.

“The vaccines industry is a key infrastructure for Europe. To ensure its sustainability and growth, we need this recognition to be translated into policy actions, maintaining the EU’s position as a leader within the vaccine ecosystem,” said Sibilia Quilici, Executive Director, Vaccines Europe.

EU must play supporting role

The figures mirror findings across Europe’s wider pharmaceutical sector which show the EU has lost 25% of its global medicines R&D over the past two decades as companies increasingly look to China and the US.

While access to vaccines and other health innovations is a Member State competency, the EU can play a supporting role in improving the landscape of uptake and equity. A key issue on this front is the significant disparities in reimbursement timelines across Member States.

Data shows that in 30% of EU countries, it often takes over six years for a new vaccine to be reimbursed. This further supports the need for innovative primary prevention solutions and improved decision-making processes at the Member State level.

These are the findings of an in-depth study by Charles River Associates, commissioned by VE on the current state of the vaccines industry within the EU. The report calls for:

  • sufficient levels of funding and investment to sustainably support vaccine research
  • appropriate infrastructure and skilled workforce for vaccine R&D, manufacturing and assessment
  • greater coordination between the EU and Member States to enable streamlined and harmonised processes, providing more timely access to innovative vaccines
  • ensuring the regulatory and access environment has the necessary flexibility to support the assessment of innovative vaccines
  • greater accountability and EU-wide policy prioritisation of prevention and immunisation to support more equitable population access to vaccines
  • consistent support from the EU for the European vaccine industry in global policy debates

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