Nathalie Moll, Director General of the EFPIA, discusses the changes the pharmaceutical industry has implemented to support the healthcare sector through COVID-19.
The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) represents the research-based industry in Europe, with a direct membership of 36 national associations, almost 40 pharmaceutical companies and a growing number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
As an organisation, our aim is to create a collaborative environment where our members can research, develop and manufacture new diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. 18 months ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, our only solution to fight the virus was to lock down and stay away from one another. Since the very first moment, our industry committed to researching, developing and producing diagnostics, treatments and vaccines to ensure we could come out from under the COVID-19 cloud. This effort resulted in the unprecedented discovery and production of effective vaccines against COVID-19 within just 12 months, vaccines which have lowered the risk of hospitalisation and enabled societies to start breathing again. The scale of vaccination is also unprecedented, and the industry is on target to make 11 billion vaccine doses by the end of this year.
Challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic
As with any unprecedented effort, challenges have been rife, from simply discovering the vaccines, ensuring their efficacy and safety, manufacturing enough doses and delivering them around the world, to ensuring there is vaccine equity, and it is thanks to the tireless work of everyone involved that these challenges are being overcome. We have started to see dose sharing between some of the nations that secured significant amounts of vaccines over and above their own needs in line with the industry’s Five Steps to increase vaccine equity published in May.
Another one of these key steps is to maintain open global supply chains by removing any trade barriers to ensure the multitude of vaccine components produced in different parts of the world can be assembled. There are currently four approved safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 in the EU, and over 400 million doses have already been administered, with cross-border collaboration playing an important role in this. If we are to defeat this pandemic, our efforts need to focus on trade and open borders so that the raw materials that are involved in these unprecedented manufacturing efforts can reach the manufacturing locations they need to reach. That takes partnership and collaboration in a global response.
The other key elements of the industry’s Five Steps to increase vaccine equity are to continue to optimise production, enable innovation into new vaccines, notably against variants, and support country readiness for vaccination.
Vaccine equity is only half the battle. By the end of this year, there will be enough doses manufactured for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19. However, vaccines are not the solution, vaccination is. If people do not get vaccinated, we will not be able to stop the pandemic. Vaccine hesitancy has been on the rise for years, with Europe among the most hesitant regions in the world and this presents an enormous hurdle in the fight against COVID-19 as well. Vaccination holds the key to defeating the coronavirus pandemic as well as other infectious diseases and this is why it is so crucial that everyone has the information they need to feel confident receiving their vaccine.
Over the last year and a half, we have come a long way in our efforts to fight COVID-19 and there are many lessons we can learn from this, from biopreparedness and established infrastructures around research, development and manufacturing of vaccines, to supporting healthcare systems as they continue to advance their digitalisation efforts and their use of health data.
It has been an incredible and humbling experience to be part of this extraordinary collaborative effort from EU institutions, governments, health systems, regulators, and the research-based pharmaceutical industry. If we have learned one thing it is that nothing is as valuable as our ability to listen to and learn from each other and work together to address health challenges. We as an industry look forward to continuing to do so to address this and future healthcare challenges, to build a healthier future for everyone in Europe and beyond.
European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA)