Brexit may threaten UK’s ability to respond effectively to COVID-19 outbreak

Medicines stockpiled in the event of a no-deal Brexit may help the UK to be better prepared to fight against the COVID-19 outbreak, but only for a short time, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Concerns over potential shortages of medications have been voiced internationally after Indian authorities restricted the export of 26 medicines, including commonly used pain relief medications, such as paracetamol. The global COVID-19 pandemic is also exposing Europe’s reliance on imported medicines. However, there have been fewer discussions on potential medicine shortages in the UK as compared to other European countries.

Urte Jakimaviciute, MSc, Senior Director of Market Research at GlobalData commented: “In August 2018, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) instructed drug makers to maintain a six-week worth stockpile of medicines to ensure the continuity of medical supplies in a no-deal Brexit scenario. While the Withdrawal Agreement was struck before the 31 January deadline, pharmaceutical companies are still required to keep hold of stockpiles of the medicines to avoid the COVID-19 outbreak from affecting supplies of the crucial medicines.

“In a further attempt to control the availability of medicines, the UK also banned the parallel export of more than 80 drugs, including paracetamol, citing they could be needed for UK patients if the outbreak continues.”

The fact that the UK is scheduled to leave the EU by the end of the year will make it more difficult to fight the pandemic. Leaving the European Medicines Agency (EMA) means that Britain will no longer be able to benefit from fast-track drug authorization processes, unless the UK chooses to accept approvals made by the EMA to prevent delays. With COVID-19 vaccines predicted to come to the market only in 12-18 months, this could mean that Britain will likely have access to the COVID-19 vaccine after the EU.

Jakimaviciute concludes: “COVID-19 has already exposed the lack of cooperation between the UK and the EU. Britain’s government has been criticized for putting “Brexit over breathing” when it reportedly missed the deadline to take part in EU’s procurement scheme to buy ventilators to treat coronavirus. The lack of plans for the coordination and data-sharing of clinical trials in a post-Brexit is another rising concern.”

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