Efforts to tackle the new influenza virus highlighted the risks associated with policies of commercialising health and welfare provision. There was selective presentation of data and problems in epidemiological studies, which created confusion about the use of the new vaccine and doubts about the need to declare a pandemic. More starkly highlighted was the lack of personnel and facilities in public health services and, in particular, the shortcomings in public primary healthcare.
What are the Commission's views on the actions of the multinationals in the pharmaceuticals industry, which endanger public health through the pursuit of profit?
(EN) The Commission would like to thank the honourable Member for this question which raises issues regarding pressure on healthcare systems and the influence of the pharmaceutical companies on public health policies, in particular within the context of the pandemic H1N1 influenza.
Ensuring continuity in all areas of healthcare, but also the procurement of medical countermeasures such as vaccines and antivirals, are integral parts of pandemic preparedness planning. The need to prepare for any pandemic, but then to adapt to the needs of a specific pandemic was a difficult exercise both for the Member States and the EU. Clearly, there is a need for flexibility and to prepare for a reasonable worst case. In their guidance on pandemic preparedness, the Commission and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) emphasised the need to prepare primary and secondary care services (whether public or private) for surges in patients.
The surveillance data reported by countries through the European Influenza Surveillance Network shows that the pressure from influenza like illness or acute respiratory infections experienced in primary care at the national level during the pandemic was not that extreme compared to, for example, last season’s seasonal influenza though it came earlier in the season as Member States had been warned to expect. Partly, this was thanks to the good preparations made by the Member States. However, as highlighted in the ECDC risk-assessments, it was unexpected that there would be such selective pressure on intensive care services (primarily for respiration).
In recent days, criticism has been voiced on the money that was spent on pandemic influenza vaccines and on the alleged influence of the pharmaceutical industry in public health policy making. The decisions by Member States on whether to buy pandemic influenza vaccines and how much vaccine to buy are a Member State competence. The Commission was not involved in these decisions and neither is the Commission privy to the contractual arrangements between the Member States and the pandemic influenza vaccine manufacturers. The declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) triggered the execution of existing contracts the pharmaceutical industry had with Member States for supply of pandemic influenza vaccines. WHO has confirmed at several occasions that the declaration of a pandemic was not biased by any profit-driven influence. Likewise, the Commission does not have any elements to believe that the Member States' decisions were biased by such influence. On the contrary, several Member States asked the Commission to set up a mechanism to help with joint procurement of vaccines in order to reduce costs. The Commission and the two independent European Agencies ECDC and the European Medicines Agency have assisted Member States with regulatory and scientific expertise
The Member States had a very difficult task when needing to decide how many doses of vaccines to purchase without knowing what the ultimate nature of the pandemic would be. At the time the Member States made these decisions, their primary consideration was to protect their citizens in the best possible way against a potentially dangerous pandemic. Therefore, the Commission believes that in hindsight, it is unfair to now second guess the wisdom of these decisions. Finally, one should keep in mind that about 2500 European citizens died because of the H1N1 influenza and many others were severely sick.