The UK’s decision to leave the European Medicines Agency (EMA), an arm of the European Commission, has been discussed at length. The EMA is responsible for overseeing clinical trials for new vaccines and medicines for pandemics, and deciding on marketing authorisations for them that apply across the EU. Media attention has highlighted the damage that being outside the EMA will do to the British economy – both through lost activity among UK researchers and suppliers, and by making the UK a less attractive place for major pharmaceutical companies.
However, the consequences of being outside the EMA go much further. The UK now lies outside the EMA’s rapid authorisation mechanism for pandemic vaccines and medicines for treatment. Consequently, the UK could have to wait longer for these than EU member states. To make matters worse, the UK has also withdrawn from the EU’s emergency bulk buying mechanism for vaccines and medicines, which allows EU member states to increase their market power and speed up access to vaccines and medicines during a crisis. Its exclusion could mean the UK will have to pay more to acquire these pandemic countermeasures.