More than a year of negotiations. This Friday, May 26, the European Commission announced having renegotiated its contract with the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer relating to messenger RNA vaccines against Covid-19. “While Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency, it is nonetheless a threat that is likely to persist. It is therefore essential that we are prepared for the years to come,” said Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food.
What changed ? According to the Commission, Pfizer has agreed to spread deliveries over the next four years until 2027. The total number of doses, considered too high by some member countries, has also been reduced from the 450 million initially planned. But no new figures have been announced. Other information that has not been disclosed, protected by business secrecy: the purchase price. However, an option was paid to be able to benefit from more doses if needed, the Commission said.
Critics have been rising for several months about the vagueness surrounding the discussions between Pfizer and the Commission. Last January, MEPs had asked for transparency on the contracts signed with Pfizer, without success. “The failure of the Commission and Pfizer to remedy the lack of transparency shows a disregard for the role of the European Parliament and casts an unnecessary shadow on the success of the European vaccine strategy”, reacted on Twitter then Belgian MP Kathleen Van Brempt. .
An opacity that fuels controversy
Revealed by the New York Times in April 2021, the terms of the previous contract caused a scandal. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been accused of being too close to the CEO of Pfizer. The two would have, according to the American daily, negotiated a contract for 1.8 billion doses directly by SMS. The content of the messages has never been revealed, fueling fantasies.
EU leaders have had to justify themselves on several occasions. “The President of the Commission has not been involved in any contract negotiations. I have said it before and I will say it again,” Commissioner Stella Kyriakides insisted at the end of March when faced with numerous questions from MEPs on this subject. And to recall that all contracts, with Pfizer or other laboratories, had followed the legislative process. “There was a joint negotiating team and a steering committee,” she said.
Three quarters of the adult population in Europe have received a dose of Pfizer in the arm, further strengthening the pharmaceutical manufacturer’s strong position in the market. In total, the European Union has purchased 4.6 billion doses for the 447 million inhabitants it has. That is nearly ten doses per inhabitant. If the first contract allowed massive vaccination and the decline of the Covid-19 epidemic, some countries found themselves with too many doses on their hands. In early March, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Lithuania, faced with excess inventory, teamed up to refuse deliveries from Pfizer.
Before the European Commission, these countries, through their Minister of Health, had asked for the conclusion of a new, fairer agreement in the interest of the public. “The Commission should look for opportunities to negotiate further with Pfizer, particularly on payments for non-delivery, reducing the number of doses under contract, or else take the initiative itself and buy surplus vaccine from states. members to donate to areas in need,” they said.
Faced with the overflow of doses, some states had even had to throw away doses reaching their expiry date. In Sweden in particular, local media reported that “nearly 8.5 million doses of Covid vaccine” have been thrown away, or “nearly a fifth of all vaccines purchased in Sweden so far”. The estimated cost is “1.5 billion Swedish crowns” (about 136 million euros), indicated the public radio Sveriges Radio AB. In Spain, at the end of 2022, several media, including the daily El Pais, revealed that approximately 14 million doses of anti-Covid vaccines had to be destroyed due to expiry.