EMA’s governance during the COVID-19 public health emergency
Table of contents
- Emergency Task Force
- EMA Crisis Response Steering Group
- EMA health threats plan
- Business continuity plan for the European medicines regulatory network
- Working with EU and international partners
- Open initiative
- Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19
- Measures to increase manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 medicines
- Travel requirements
During the COVID-19 public health emergency, between 2020 and 2023, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) established dedicated task forces to deal with the scientific, regulatory and operational challenges it created, and initiated its business continuity plan.
These measures sought to safeguard EMA's core activities related to the evaluation and supervision of medicines during the emergency and to ring-fence resources dealing with COVID-19.
EMA aimed to expedite the development of effective measures to fight and prevent the spread of COVID-19. This included exploring ways for accelerating the development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, in close cooperation with the European medicines regulatory network.
EMA also worked to ensure that the assessment and monitoring of medicines were not disrupted, so that patients in Europe continued to have access to high quality, safe and effective medicines during the public health emergency.
Read a personal account by EMA's former Deputy Executive Director, Noël Wathion, on the Agency's measures to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic:
The Emergency Task Force (ETF) handled regulatory activities during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The ETF is an advisory and support body that handles regulatory activities in preparation for and during public-health emergencies. The ETF took over the activities of the former COVID-19 EMA Pandemic Task Force in March 2022.
EMA established the ETF in line with the Regulation on EMA's Reinforced Role (Regulation (EU) 2022/123). This Regulation made the Task Force permanent and entrusted it with an important role in crisis preparedness.
For full details on the ETF’s role, responsibilities and composition, see:
EMA convened the COVID-19 EMA Pandemic Task Force in March 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Task Force was in operation until the establishment of the ETF in March 2022.
Information on this former Task Force is available for reference purposes in this document:
EMA’s Crisis Response Steering Group was established during the pandemic to provide strategic oversight of the evolving scientific and regulatory challenges created by public health emergencies such as COVID-19 and mpox.
It was formerly known as the EMA COVID-19 Steering Group and EMA COVID-19 Task Force.
It monitored the response to COVID-19 by EMA and the European medicines regulatory network, and maintained and adapted EMA’s COVID-19 business continuity plan.
The group continues to oversee review and reporting on lessons learned from the pandemic. It also oversees the phasing out of specific measures taken in response to this public health emergency, and other topics of importance, including from a political, interinstitutional or international perspective.
It is composed of senior EMA staff. Melanie Carr, Head of Stakeholders and Communication Division and responsible for Crisis Management, chairs the Steering Group since July 2021.
EMA's health threats plan describes how EMA responds to serious public health threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
It sets out the roles and responsibilities of its scientific committees and staff and describes EMA's communication with EU Member States, international partners, stakeholders and the public.
It also covers operational aspects such as providing rapid scientific advice for products under development and fast-track approval of medicines such as vaccines and antivirals.
EMA activated its health threats plan in early 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the European medicines regulatory network's business continuity plan set out the principles to ensure that EMA, the EU Member States and the European Commission continued to operate their core regulatory activities to protect public and animal health in the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It covered procedures related to medicines for COVID-19, as well as core procedures forall other human and veterinary medicines, irrespective of their authorisation route.
The plan made it clear that the assessment of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines could not be delayed under any circumstances.
It also set out how to handle possible delays for non-COVID-19-related assessments, and how Member States could deal with the inevitable disruptions arising from the pandemic. The plan aimed to mitigate as much as possible potential delays to the evaluation and supervision of medicines.
EMA and the European medicines regulatory network lifted their COVID-19 business continuity measures in May 2023.
EMA introduced temporary measures in May 2021 to allow the network to focus its resources on COVID-19-related assessments.
These will remain in place until further notice.
EMA is keeping the measures under review and will amend them if necessary.
EMA works closely with other European partners, including the European Commission, the Health Security Committee and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and with international partners such as the WHO and regulators from affected countries.
ECDC and WHO produce a series of risk assessments, epidemiological updates and other information:
EU authorities monitored the pandemic closely and provided updates as information became available.
As of March 2020, the European Commission's Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, ECDC and EMA held weekly video conferences to share information and coordinate activities for the effective management of the COVID-19 crisis.
For more information on how EMA supported the EU response to the COVID-19 pandemic, see:
Medicine regulatory authorities worldwide cooperate under the umbrella of the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA). For more information, see ICMRA: Supporting the development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
The OPEN Initiative allows WHO and medicines regulators from outside the EU to take part in EMA's scientific evaluations.
The initiative aims to:
- facilitate sharing of scientific expertise;
- tackle common challenges,
- enhance transparency on regulatory decisions.
EMA took steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, with the aim of protecting staff, delegates and experts and playing its part as responsible citizens in its host country, the Netherlands.
EMA held meetings virtually for its scientific committees, working parties and stakeholders. EMA staff mainly worked remotely during the pandemic.
EMA's measures aligned with the steps taken by the European Commission and the Dutch Government’s coronavirus containment efforts. They did not impact on EMA’s core activities related to the evaluation and supervision of medicines.
EMA was actively involved in approving new manufacturing sites to increase manufacturing capacity and supply of COVID-19 vaccines in the EU:
- Increase in manufacturing capacity for Vaxzevria (previously COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca)(24/01/2022)
- Increase in manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 vaccines from Janssen, Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer(16/12/2021)
- Increase in manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca(01/12/2021)
- New manufacturing sites and new formulation approved for COVID-19 vaccine from BioNTech/Pfizer(18/10/2021)
- Additional manufacturing site for COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen(07/10/2021)
EMA is not involved in advising on travel requirements in the EU, such as vaccination, quarantine or testing for travellers.
Decisions about which COVID-19 vaccines are included, for example, in the EU Digital COVID Certificate, are taken by the EU Member States. EMA is in charge of the scientific evaluation of vaccines for EU marketing authorisation. The acceptability criteria for travel purposes are broader and can include, for example, World Health Organization (WHO) listed vaccines that have not necessarily undergone the EMA process of authorisation.
Official information on this topic is available in all EU languages at: