EU and Pfizer/BioNTech Amend Vaccine Pact

30.05.2023 - The European Commission and vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech have reached agreement on amending the bloc’s 2021 supply deal for the duo’s Comirnaty mRNA-based shot. The compromise that extends the last planned delivery date to 2026 follows months of discussion, with member states urging the Commission to renegotiate the controversial deal.

Vaccine sales are slumping worldwide, in view of the current global glut and in particular, the slow uptake of Covid boosters amid as well as a reduced incidence of the virus. Some countries reportedly have destroyed doses that were about to expire. Without figures being revealed, the number has been estimated to be in the millions.

In a statement announcing the extension plans, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said two EU member states, which she didn’t name, had decided to opt out of the amended deal. Those countries identified by the  Reuters news agency as Poland and Hungary will continue to be bound by the current contract.

The original contract called for delivery of 1.8 billion additional doses of the duo’s mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine though 2023. This included an initial 900 million doses with an option for another 900 million. Reports suggest that half or more of the first 900 million doses have not yet been delivered.

While statements from the Commission and Pfizer/BioNTech did not specify the size of the reduction in doses the EU is obliged to buy, a source told Reuters that the the contract change cuts the number by about a third. Member states reportedly will have to pay an unquantified fee for each cancelled dose.

Under the pressure of delivery delays for the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Covid shots, along with increasing reports of negative side effects from those, the Commission at the time decided to concentrate on Comirnaty. The deal made the EU the world’s largest customer for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — ahead of the US.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has been heavily criticized in some quarters, including by central/east European member states and the European Parliament, for the move as well as for allegedly negotiating the deal with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla by text message.

To date, the mode of negotiation hasn’t been confirmed. Despite the amended deal, the Commission president will still have her feet held to the fire. The European Public Prosecutor's Office announced last October that it was probing the EU's vaccine procurement. As yet, no findings have been released.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist