In the pages of The BMJ a decade ago, in the middle of a different pandemic, it came to light that governments around the world had spent billions stockpiling antivirals for influenza that had not been shown to reduce the risk of complications, hospital admissions, or death. The majority of trials that underpinned regulatory approval and government stockpiling of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) were sponsored by the manufacturer; most were unpublished, those that were published were ghostwritten by writers paid by the manufacturer, the people listed as principal authors lacked access to the raw data, and academics who requested access to the data for independent analysis were denied.
The BMJ has reviewed the documents, which show that regulators had major concerns over unexpectedly low quantities of intact mRNA in batches of the vaccine developed for commercial production.
EMA scientists tasked with ensuring manufacturing quality—the chemistry, manufacturing, and control aspects of Pfizer’s submission to the EMA—worried about “truncated and modified mRNA species present in the finished product.” Among the many files leaked to The BMJ, an email dated 23 November by a high ranking EMA official outlined a raft of issues. In short, commercial manufacturing was not producing vaccines to the specifications expected, and regulators were unsure of the implications. EMA responded by filing two “major objections” with Pfizer, along with a host of other questions it wanted addressed.