The European Commission denied on Tuesday (12 January) the existence of bilateral vaccine contracts between individual EU countries and manufacturers, saying this is not possible under the joint procurement agreement. This directly contradicts the Portuguese EU presidency, who confirmed such deals last week.
“Parallel contracts are not possible – do read article seven of the agreements,” said Sandra Gallina, deputy director-general at the European Commission’s health and food safety directorate.
“We have not been notified and we have good intelligence on this,” she told lawmakers during a meeting of the European Parliament’s environment committee yesterday (12 January).
Commenting on the “much-rumoured” parallel contracts, Gallina said she has yet to see one and does not think such a contract will ever see the light.
“It’s something that in my view does not exist, based on what I have been told,” she reiterated, adding that “the name of the member states is on the vial, there are no spare vials that somebody can buy in a bilateral deal.”
“Either you did an advanced purchase agreement last year, or now it’s a bit too late to go around buying doses,” she said, stressing that pharmaceutical companies have given assurances that EU vaccine doses will be given priority.
Her comments come in response to news that Germany had struck a bilateral deal with Pfizer-BioNTech for 30 million extra doses, breaking the commitment to joint procurement of vaccines, under which COVID vaccines are due to be distributed to member states on a pro-rata basis.
Several other member states are also thought to be in the process of initiating parallel agreements, including Cyprus who, according to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, is currently in contact with Israel over the possibility of securing extra doses for the country.
The news was confirmed by Marta Temido, the health minister of Portugal, the current holder of the rotating presidency of the EU Council, who said on Friday (8 January) that some countries have purchased vaccines on their own side.
According to the Portuguese minister, these side purchases were made after the EU negotiations and the distribution of the vaccines will be performed in accordance with those contracts.
“The role of the presidency is to ensure that the contracts in place are respected,” Temido concluded, adding that these purchases were made after the joint negotiations took place at the EU level.
News of these bilateral agreements has been heavily criticised for undermining EU solidarity and promoting ‘vaccine nationalism’.
A Commission spokesperson confirmed on Monday that Stella Kyriakides, health and food safety Commissioner, is due to send a letter to EU health ministers asking them to be transparent on how they are complying with the provisions of the EU vaccines strategy in terms of “contacts, or lack of contacts rather, with those pharmaceutical companies that we have been or are negotiating with.”
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]