Covid-19: how Europe is dealing with overstocking of vaccines

Covid 19 how Europe is dealing with overstocking of vaccines

For the past two weeks, the number of cases linked to Covid-19 has increased again in France, and sporadically in Europe. The situation remains “controlled” and the magnitude of this tenth wave is far from the previous ones. With the decline of the epidemic, that of vaccination followed. And now, many European states find themselves with a surplus of doses, to the point, sometimes, of having to throw them away.

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. This is the past and future volume for the Member States, since the end of 2020, determined by eleven contracts concluded between the European Commission and eight laboratories (or alliances of laboratories) manufacturing vaccines against Covid-19, for a total cost contracts estimated at 71 billion euros. By the end of 2023, the EU still expects 1.8 billion doses. But the stock now seems disproportionate as the progress of the pandemic has weakened. This is how the European Commission began negotiations several months ago with the producers of vaccines against Covid-19, the Pfizer-BioNTech laboratory in the lead, in order to modify the conditions of the contracts previously agreed.

Revising contracts downwards: Poland at the head of the negotiations

Almost a year ago, the Polish Minister of Health announced that his country would refuse to receive and pay for additional doses of the anti-Covid vaccine. Warsaw had indicated that it was using the “force majeure clause”, citing the low vaccination rate recorded in this state. The contracts provide that “a party is not responsible for a delay or a breach of its obligations fixed by the agreement [signé entre la Commission et le laboratoire] if this delay or failure is the result of a case of force majeure”. However, Warsaw did not win the case and is still in negotiations, in particular with the Pfizer-BioNTech laboratory, on the pretext that the parties to these agreements are the Commission and the manufacturers. In other words, a country alone could not terminate its agreements. In early March, the Commission nevertheless gave Poland the green light to renegotiate the agreement with Pfizer on its side. ” The European Commission has repeatedly stressed that the Member States are parties to the contracts; therefore, Poland is exercising its rights and participating in the bilateral dialogue to reach an agreement with the producer”, explained the Polish Minister of Health last month. But the negotiations have not yet evolved.

Poland is not the only country struggling with vaccine overstocking. Other European nations are also pressuring the Commission to renegotiate contracts. This is the case of Bulgaria, Hungary and Lithuania. With Poland they have even formed an opposition group to the delivery conditions of Pfizer vaccines, reports the site Euroactiv. Before the European Commission, the countries, through their Minister of Health, 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 excess vaccine from states. members to donate to areas in need,” they said.

Germany and France for rehabilitated supplies

Where Poland wants to cut short any delivery of anti-covid vaccines, other European states, including France and Germany, are instead trying to readapt their supply, more than to stop it. Berlin has been holding talks with the European Commission since the end of 2022 to obtain authorization to reduce orders. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach announced in mid-December that 160 million doses of vaccines already ordered for 2023 and 2024 would not be needed. The reason: weaker-than-expected demand and stocks already filled to the brim. “Since the change of government, the federal executive has made efforts to reduce the total order by around 11.3 million doses,” the German health ministry told AFP. Release.

In France, the Directorate General of Health mentions “a strategic stock” of nearly 47 million doses. “As the crisis progressed, the Ministry of Health made sure to regularly adapt its vaccine supply strategy to limit the destruction of doses”, indicates the Directorate General of Health to the national daily. This has resulted in particular in “renegotiations of contracts with vaccine manufacturers”, or even “extensions of expiry dates for certain vaccines”. In Paris, as in Berlin, to avoid waste, there is also talk of significant donations to countries that have not (or little) contracted with the laboratories.

In Sweden and Spain, millions of doses thrown away

Faced with the overflow of doses, some States find no other means than to throw away doses reaching their expiry date. In Sweden in particular, local media reports 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), recently reported the public radio Sveriges Radio AB.

In Spain, at the end of 2022, several media, including the daily El Pais, reported that approximately 14 million doses of anti-Covid vaccines had to be destroyed due to expiry. In total, the countries of the North had to get rid of nearly 240 million expired doses of vaccines against Covid-19.