Sanofi’s UK Managing Director, Hugo Fry, has told The Times that the company is considering airlifting flu vaccines into the UK in the event of a No Deal Brexit. Supplies would be flown to a predetermined location, from which the government would release the delivery instantly.
Fry’s comments come in the context of a letter from Health Secretary Matt Hancock to Pharma Companies, requesting that they stockpile six weeks supply of medicines to keep up with demand in the weeks following a hard exit from the EU. However, this advice is less practical for seasonal vaccines, which have to be developed and imported into markets on a much tighter timescale than other medicines. Typically, vaccines reach markets for August, only two months before influenza activity starts to become more prevalent in October. Sanofi sold more than 5.7 million does of its quadrivalent flu vaccine in the UK over the 2017-2018 season.
Currently, Sanofi’s vaccines are distributed from Val de Reuil in Northwest France, and reach the UK via the English Channel. However, cross channel trade is likely to face significant disruption after a UK exit from the Customs Union, particularly if this is not accompanied by a deal with the EU. Research by Imperial College London has shown that customs checks only have to increase by two minutes, from the current average of two minutes per vehicle to four minutes per vehicle, for queues at Dover to triple to thirty miles at peak times. In the short term, before the UK installs critical infrastructure to deal with the greater complexity of customs checks, delays could be significantly longer, which could lead to shortages of food, fuel and vital medicines, if not managed correctly.
As the date of the UK’s automatic departure from the European Union in March 2019 draws closer, the prospects of a deal between the UK and the EU which will satisfy key power brokers on both sides of channel seems more remote. Guidance on the regulatory impact of Brexit, along with analysis of possible future UK-EU relationships, can be found in the MAP UK Brexit section: