By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS, Oct 20 (Reuters) - COVID-19 vaccines should have labels and packages with information only in English, European Union regulators have agreed, loosening multilingual requirements that could slow the roll-out of shots in the continent.
The move, meant to speed up the distribution of any vaccine if and when it is available, is also a testament to the dominant position of the English tongue in the 27-nation bloc - despite Brexit.
EU health experts have agreed to limit the information on jabs' labels and packages "to one EU official language, preferably English," an EU document said.
Vaccine makers had urged the EU to soften during the pandemic rules that require them to have labels in the bloc's 24 official languages.
The document was adopted in late September and published last week on a little watched webpage of the EU Commission.
When the EU executive commission first flagged in early September the possibility of temporarily cutting the language requirements on vaccines, consumer groups warned against risks for patients who may be administered jabs improperly.
The document, which was prepared by the EU Commission and endorsed by health experts from EU countries, says that information should be omitted if countries opted for multilingual labels.
However, vaccine makers remain obliged to provide paper leaflets for each dose in the languages of the country where the shot will be administered, the document says.
But leaflets could be distributed separately from vaccines, the EU document says, in a move meant to speed up their roll-out but which critics fear could cause delayed deliveries of information leaflets.
"The commission and member states must demand vaccine manufacturers to ensure that printed leaflets are available when consumers get the vaccine," said Ancel la Santos, of the consumer group BEUC.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Alex Richardson)
((Francesco.Guarascio@thomsonreuters.com; +32 2 287 68 17; @fraguarascio))
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