The European Commission remains silent on how the Covid-19 vaccine contracts were negotiated, at the risk of playing with fire – or, in this case, with Pfizer – as public interest in this issue continues to grow. grow.
Last Friday (14 October), the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) announced the opening of an investigation into the purchase of vaccines by the European Commission during the Covid pandemic.
“The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) confirms that it has an ongoing investigation into the acquisition of Covid-19 vaccines in the European Union”, said the independent body created in 2021 to fight European funds fraud in a press release.
“This exceptional confirmation is the result of extremely high public interest (in this case). No further details will be made public at this stage.” added EPPO.
On Monday (October 17), a Commission spokesperson said, unsurprisingly, at a press conference: “I can’t say anything more on the subject.”
EPPO’s investigation follows a long-standing interest in knowing the full content of contracts for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccine doses.
So far, contracts are only available to the public in redacted, and therefore unreadable versions, on which can only have some important information such as price and liability.
“We never managed to know the production sites, never managed to have delivery schedules”, French MEP Véronique Trillet-Lenoir (Renew) told EURACTIV.
Eyes on Pfizer
The chair of the European Parliament’s special committee on Covid (COVI), Kathleen van Brempt, welcomes the investigation opened by EPPO.
“We need to know why the biggest contract is the least transparent. We need to understand why the EU is forced to buy 1.8 billion Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, what the needs are, that new and better players have entered the market,” Ms. van Brempt said in a tweet.
“Many EU contracts reserved a ‘right’ to buy, but with the Pfizer contract we do have an ‘obligation’ to buy. Why did we deviate from the normal procedure for a contract that covers our needs on several occasions, for a period when everyone would already be vaccinated (2022 and 2023)? », she concluded.
The contract in question concerns the purchase of 1.8 billion doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines. This is the third vaccine purchase contract.
It is believed to have been negotiated by text message between the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer.
The SMS affair
These messages were sent as the EU negotiated contracts for the Covid-19 vaccine and a dispute with Pfizer’s rival AstraZeneca was ongoing. When a journalist asked for access to the text messages, the Commission said it had not recorded them.
Last July, the European ombudsman Emily O’Reilly issued a harsh ruling, describing the SMS case as maladministration.
Generally speaking, Ms O’Reilly criticized the lack of public information on Covid vaccine contracts, telling EURACTIV that more information should have been made public sooner.
Pfizer and the Commission remaining discreet, MEPs persist. On October 10, the COVI commission heard several pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, on their role in managing the pandemic.
While Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was scheduled to attend, he was canceled shortly before the meeting and was replaced by Janine Small, president of international developed markets at Pfizer.
“The contracts are available”, assured Ms. Small in the face of disgruntled deputies. Available yes, but illegible.
Provocation ? European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides met Mr. Bourla in Washington on October 12, just two days after the COVI meeting from which the CEO escaped.
Ms. Kyriakides even tweeted a photo of herself with Mr. Bourla.
This gesture did not fail to provoke the European deputies, who returned an invitation to Mr. Bourla so that he came in person to see them in Brussels. Case to follow.