During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spent more time than usual approving Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) authority for medical organizations. Fast-approving more than 100 medical device and testing kits in such a short amount of time is hardly standard practice for the FDA. Yet these FDA approvals during COVID-19 were essential to protecting public health and safety.
EUAs come with their own set of benefits and risks, as well as a detailed process to determine whether the devices in question are fit for use in emergency situations. As a result, it’s important to understand what this process is and how regulatory standards apply during unprecedented times.
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Emergency Use Authorization is a FDA program that allows health professionals to temporarily use an unapproved medication, medical device or medical procedure to save people’s lives. This law exists under section 564 of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and is designed to protect medical patients with life-threatening illnesses who lack access to alternative treatment.
EUA authority is more common recently due to the widespread threat of COVID-19, which has infected millions of people worldwide. The FDA granted EUA approvals for a variety of items, including vaccines and new testing methods.
Regulatory & EUA Approval
Before a company can receive regulatory approval for a FDA EUA, certain criteria must be met. First, there needs to be a state of emergency, such as a threat to public health like COVID-19. The secretary of homeland security often makes this decision if there is a military threat, while the secretary of health and human services can declare a public health emergency.
Once the proper officials have declared a state of emergency, the FDA can decide whether or not to approve a drug, device or procedure based on:
- The effectiveness of the unapproved product
- The availability of alternatives
- Risk to benefit analyses
For example, if a device is still being tested as a test kit for COVID-19 and it’s the only option to maintain supply, it can receive temporary approval from the FDA. This condition can apply if no other successful options are available. Most importantly, if product shortages are preventing care to patients in need.
EUA Benefits and Risks
The main benefit of an EUA is that it has the potential to save lives during public health emergencies by easing some of the restrictions under 510(k) submissions. It’s a temporary measure, giving health professionals the ability to administer unconventional treatment and go through the steps to have it long-term approved later.
Before approving a treatment for the EUA program, the FDA needs to conduct an analysis of the benefits and risks of Emergency Use Authorization. This process is challenging because of the discrepancies between cases. For example, one device might be in a different stage of approval than another. Subsequently, manufacturers may be sending in real time clinical data that varies based on similar devices.
Medical Supply Manufacturers
Weighing the positive effects of the device against the possible risks to patients can be difficult too. Healthcare manufacturers may be working with minimal or inconclusive data while seeking fast approval for their products. This situation puts heavy pressure on officials to make smart, informed decisions that will save as many people as possible.
The FDA is working to update and address new policies so manufacturers can continue to roll out life-saving assets. Some of the FDA guidance available are those that were left over after Ebola and the SARS epidemic years ago. For instance, the FDA offers guidance for absenteeism to account for people on sick leave. Guidelines also cover ways to handle social distancing while still adhering to regulations and maintaining productivity.
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