Development and deployment of safe and effective vaccines is seen as an essential element in the management and solution of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are no COVID-19 vaccines approved yet in the European Union, but due to the urgency posed by this health crisis, different mechanisms are in place to expedite the development of such vaccines in order to make them available as soon as possible while safeguarding the mandatory requirements of quality, safety and efficacy.
According to EU legislation (Regulation 726/2004) most COVID-19 vaccines fall under the scope of the centralised procedure since they are produced by biotechnological processes for which the centralised procedure is mandatory (as listed in Annex 1 to the Regulation). For other types of vaccines currently under development, such as those composed of whole-inactivated virus or live attenuated virus, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Heads of Medicines Agencies (HMA) network encourage marketing authorisation holders to submit their applications through the centralised procedure in order to ensure that those vaccines reach all Member States at the same time, with no unfair access in the Union. This is possible according to Article 3.2 of the above-mentioned Regulation:
(b) the applicant shows that the medicinal product constitutes a significant therapeutic, scientific or technical innovation or that the granting of authorisation in accordance with this Regulation is in the interests of patients or animal health at Union level.”
In such a procedure, EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP), which is composed of national experts, carries out a scientific assessment of the application and gives a recommendation on whether the medicine should be authorised or not. This procedure, subsequently finalised by the European Commission’s decision, gives all EU Member States, as well as those in the European Economic Area, the possibility of access to thoroughly and effectively evaluated medicines at the same time and ensures centralised safety monitoring across their life cycle.
In accordance with predefined standards for quality, safety and effectiveness that adequately protect EU patients and all people who receive medicines or vaccines, EMA in close cooperation with NCA experts in scientific committees, uses accelerated procedures to speed up the process. The goal is to deliver assessments of high-quality applications in the shortest possible timeframes while ensuring robust scientific opinions. Therefore, COVID-19 vaccine applications should be assessed via the centralised procedure and, in addition to the centralised procedure itself, EMA’s scientific advice mechanism should be used whenever necessary, to advise developers on the quality, safety and efficacy requirements that must be met to enter the European market.