The European Commission has been forced to deny that EU “solidarity” over its vaccines strategy had been put at risk by Germany allegedly negotiating its own deal with Pfizer and BioNTech.
It has emerged that, apparently acting on a bilateral basis, Germany secured an additional 30 million doses last September. This was confirmed in a memorandum of understanding of which the EU was aware, according to the German health ministry.
But, on Wednesday, the Commission seemed unaware of any German bilateral agreement and stressed the importance of the EU “acting together” in ordering any Coronavirus vaccines.
“One of our key principles is that we work together on this. We represent a market of 450 million citizens and we are in a stronger position in negotiations with these companies if we work together. This avoids competition between Member States, both on doses and pricing” European Commission spokesman
There have been widespread media reports that Germany may have been in breach of EU agreements in holding bilateral talks and a commission spokesman told reporters that all 27 member states, including Germany, had made a “political commitment” to avoid “parallel negotiations” with the same pharmaceutical companies to secure COVID-19 vaccines.
The spokesman said the aim of this was partly to avoid competition among EU states and to ensure there was a fair distribution of vaccines for the EU’s 450 million population.
The Commission has already ordered 200 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and has taken up an option to buy another 100 million doses under a contract signed with the two companies in November.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said this week that national deals were possible with the same vaccine makers once the EU has concluded its own contract and as long as supplies to EU countries were not disrupted.
The German case is just one of several areas where the EU’s vaccine strategy has been questioned.
On Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency approved using Moderna’s Coronavirus vaccine - the second vaccine in the EU’s armoury - but the EU has still been criticised for an alleged slow roll out of vaccines.
With Germany accused of signing a contract for 30 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech jab for itself, the spokesman said, “One of our key principles is that we work together on this. We represent a market of 450 million citizens and we are in a stronger position in negotiations with these companies if we work together. This avoids competition between Member States, both on doses and pricing.”
He added, “All Member States have supported this strategy, that is, for a joint approach to negotiations.”
He said the Commission understood that the 30 million doses requested by Germany were part of the 100 million extra doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech jab the EU was trying to secure.
The spokesman said, “It is our understanding that this is the context. We aim to avoid parallel negotiations and we are all working on this basis. Such coordination is the cornerstone of our handling of the crisis.”
“We have advance purchasing agreements for a certain number of doses and also have an option for extra doses. Our understanding is that the German negotiations were being held in this context.”
“We are in talks with Pfizer and BioNTech on behalf of all Member States and if there have been parallel negotiations, that does not change this fact. When it comes to any bilateral contracts I would say that this is a joint process and we want to avoid parallel negotiations. This is a European process.”
“We are all in this together and united. This is why we have negotiated the broadest vaccine portfolio in the world for all our Member States” Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety
Council President Charles Michel said that EU leaders would talk again via videoconference later this month to discuss the vaccine rollout
Meanwhile, the Commission has granted a conditional marketing authorisation (CMA) for the COVID 19 vaccine developed by Moderna, the second COVID-19 vaccine authorised in the EU.
This, it says “follows a positive scientific recommendation based on a thorough assessment of the safety, effectiveness and quality of the vaccine by the EMA.”
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, said: “We are providing more COVID-19 vaccines for Europeans. With the Moderna vaccine, the second one now authorised in the EU, we will have a further 160 million doses. And more vaccines will come. Europe has secured up to two billion doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines. We’ll have more than enough safe and effective vaccines for protecting all Europeans.”
Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, added: “We are all in this together and united. This is why we have negotiated the broadest vaccine portfolio in the world for all our Member States.”
“Today we are authorising a second safe and effective vaccine from Moderna, which together with BioNTech-Pfizer, will ensure that 460 million doses will be rolled out with increasing speed in the EU, and more will come. Member States have to ensure that the pace of vaccinations follows suit.
"Our efforts will not stop until vaccines are available for everyone in the EU.”