The European Commission is expected to adopt today (8 December) measures to co-ordinate the European response to health crises such as the 2009 swine-flu pandemic (H1N1). The goal is to avoid a repetition of the confused response that saw some member states – notably France – buy far too much medicine, while others – such as Poland – purchased none.
The Commission wants to strengthen the hands of smaller member states in negotiations with the pharmaceutical companies that make the vaccines.
Under the proposal member states would be able to buy such medicines as Tamiflu jointly, with the Commission negotiating on their behalf. The member states would then decide how much medicine was allotted to each country.
“We went through a process of learning the lessons from the H1N1 event, and we detected flaws in communication and in the vaccine procurement process,” John Dalli, the European commissioner for health, told European Voice. “The pharmaceutical industry imposed certain conditions on member states because they had their backs to the wall.”
The negotiation-pooling would be voluntary, and would be likely to benefit specifically small member states or member states that do not have a large domestic pharmaceutical industry. It would increase their negotiating power and allow them to ensure that each country received the appropriate amount of medicine.
Such a negotiation would be triggered once the Commission declared a public health emergency, another new element to the proposal. Approval of new vaccines would then be fast-tracked, taking two to three months instead of the normal seven.
Under the existing system, the EU can only call a health emergency once it has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). But the WHO only declares a pandemic once it has spread to at least two continents, so an outbreak occurring only in Europe would not qualify.
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