Pfizer CEO's Texts with EC Chief Trigger Lawsuit

17.02.2023 - Two years after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla virtually wrapped up a major order for the Covid-19 vaccine Comirnaty that the US drugmaker markets with Germany’s BioNTech, the New York Times is suing the Commission in the European Court of Justice for its failure to make essential details of the negotiations public.

From the newspaper’s viewpoint, the EU governing body is legally obliged to publish the terms of the agreement, which the Times suggests may have been conducted through text messages.

In contrast, the Commission, without confirming that this is how the deal was done, has insisted that text messages are “short-lived ephemeral documents” that don’t need to be saved, let alone published.

First to report the EU-Pfizer pact in April 2021, the newspaper filed its case against the Commission on 25 January 2023 and it appeared reported on the court’s docket on Feb. 13.

For its part, the European Parliament in September 2022 opened an investigation into the transaction, but this has made little progress up to now. Von der Leyen is quoted as saying she no longer has the relevant texts, while Bourla has declined to personally engage with the assembly.

Addressing the Parliament on the CEO’s behalf, Pfizer’s president of international development markets, Janine Small, told MEPs the talks were too detailed and complex and involve too many parties to be executed through text messages – without saying whether or not this was indeed how it was done.

Due to the information gaps, it remains unclear to all but those involved how the purchase order for 900 million doses of the mRNA-based vaccine with an option to buy another 900 million – the largest contract the EU signed during the pandemic – was actually negotiated.

The only thing that most see as certain is that Von der Leyen worried at the time that the 27-member bloc could come up short of Covid vaccine doses at the height of the pandemic, after AstraZeneca was unable to deliver its pledged volume in the allotted time, and the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker’s shot was clouded by safety questions.

To date, only redacted versions of the contracts have been made public, for reasons of confidentiality and competition, as the EU has explained. The EP and several NGOs have called for full versions to be published.

Criticizing the Commission for withholding pertinent information from the member states’ representatives, EP ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said last year that the body’s handling of requests for access to documents “leaves the regrettable impression of an EU institution that is not forthcoming on matters of significant public interest.”

MEPS have said they fear that the Commission may have hastily ordered too many doses, and many may have to be destroyed if not administered in time thereby wasting European citizen’s tax money.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist