Brexit ‘helped Britain’ win race to approve COVID-19 vaccine, says pharmaceutical boss

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Hugo Fry, the managing director of Paris-based drug giant Sanofi, said “nimble buying” and next week’s planned COVID-19 jab roll-out had all been possible because the UK was no longer bound by the red tape of the European Union’s regulatory and purchasing mechanisms. Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved the jab developed by Pfizer and BioNTech while the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has yet to do so for the EU.

I’m not convincedif they’d been part of that European buying programme they’d have had the flexibility

Hugo Fry

And Mr Fry said Britain’s MHRA had set a precedent by assessing the vaccine on an emergency basis and completing several months’ work in just a few weeks.

He said: “It’s a good example of what they can do when they put their mind to it.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that the UK has one of the most respected and best regulatory agencies for medicines in the world.

“This shows that if you sit down with the MHRA and discuss the pathway and a potential rapid agreement going forward, it can potentially bring really good innovative medicines very quickly to UK patients.”

Mr Fry, who opposed Brexit, also praised the UK Vaccines Taskforce which has secured access to 357 million doses of vaccines from seven different manufacturers.

He told the Telegraph: “They’ve been fast and they got a really nice selection and they got good volumes.

“I’m not convinced that if they’d been part of that European buying programme they’d have had quite the speed and the flexibility to do it.

“The fact that the UK was able to do it in a single deal meant that it got its deal done before France and before Germany. It’s more efficient.”

But Britain’s success story has not be so warmly welcomed elsewhere in Europe with the EMA accusing the UK of sacrificing rigour in the interests of speed and Health Secretary Matt Hancock facing a backlash after claiming Brexit helped Britain achieve the vaccine breakthrough.

Mr Hancock said the Europeans were “moving a little bit more slowly” but insisted the vaccine had gone through the necessary safety checks to allow the UK to approve it.

MHRA chief June Raine said the approval was made using provisions under European law, which still binds the UK until the end of the year.

But German MEP Pieter Liese, a member of the European Parliament’s public health committee, said individual EU member states could have authorised the vaccine but had chosen to wait for the EMA to examine more information rather than follow the “hasty” UK example.

Dr Liese – a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party – said: “I consider this decision to be problematic and recommend that EU member states do not repeat the process in the same way.

“A few weeks of thorough examination by the EMA is better than a hasty emergency marketing authorisation of a vaccine.”

He suggested that the move could have been influenced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s domestic difficulties.

He said: “Britain now has nearly 60,000 corona deaths. Add to this the fact that Britain is an island and has never been a Schengen member, which means open borders in Europe.

“Britain would have to compare itself more with countries like New Zealand or Ireland, which have a much better grip on the infection rate.”

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BioNTech is a German firm and ministers’ attempts to portray the approval as a UK success story were criticised by the Berlin government.

Germany’s ambassador to the UK, Andreas Michaelis, attacked Business Secretary Alok Sharma’s claim that “in years to come, we will remember this moment as the day the UK led humanity’s charge against this disease”.

Mr Michaelis said: “Why is it so difficult to recognise this important step forward as a great international effort and success?

“I really don’t think this is a national story.

“In spite of the German company, BioNTech, having made a crucial contribution, this is European and transatlantic.”

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