Brexit could mean the UK has to wait longer – and pay more – for a vaccine for the coronavirus, health experts fear.
The UK intends to leave European Medicines Agency (EMA) at the end of the transition period, scheduled for the end of the year.
But academics and lawyers fear a departure from the EU institution will mean that the UK will have to join a queue of non-EU countries to acquire a vaccine to the COVID-19 disease, which they predict will arrive next year.
Writing in the Guardian the experts are expecting that the UK will leave the European Union’s EMA, which presently allows for ‘accelerated assessment’ of products developed by drugs companies during a pandemic.
The government has already taken the UK out of the emergency bulk-buying mechanism for vaccines and medicines, which allows countries to strike agreements with pharmaceutical companies to speed up the process at a time of crisis.
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They write: ‘For all these reasons … the UK is likely to have to join the queue for access with other countries outside the EU, and to pay more than it would otherwise as an EU member state.
‘Looking further ahead, this problem will not be limited to emergencies and the UK can expect slower and more limited access to medicines, especially those for rare conditions or those used to treat children, where the market is small.’
The government could still agree to the EMA’s regulations, but the expects do not believe that Boris Johnson’s government is willing to commit itself to such rules.
Olivier Wouters of the London School of Economics and Political Science, warned the UK could pay a higher price as a result.
He said: ‘If a coronavirus vaccine is developed, EU countries may choose to band together to jointly procure the vaccine. This would give EU countries more bargaining power against a vaccine maker to try to secure a lower price. If the UK were excluded from such a joint procurement scheme, it’s possible that the UK would end up paying a higher price than the EU for the same vaccine.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the UK was looking to play a leading role in the global effort to tackle coronavirus.
They said: ‘The UK and our friends and partners across Europe are part of a concerted international effort to combat the threat of COVID-19. We are confident that our current close working relationships will continue as we ready ourselves for all eventualities. We’re fully supporting the UK’s world-leading, disease research sector to play a key role in the global effort, with £40 million of new funding for rapid research into the virus.’
It comes as experts warn that a departure from the Early Warning and Response System will put public health at risk.