COVID vaccine contract: nearly a quarter obscured

In total, 23.79% of the agreement was found to be redacted from the contract. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

As European lawmakers demand more transparency around COVID vaccine contracts, a EURACTIV analysis has found that nearly a quarter of the CureVac COVID vaccine contract made available to MEPs this week, including nearly two-thirds of its Annexes, has been redacted.

The contract, signed between pharmaceutical company CureVac and the European Commission in November, was made available to MEPs on Tuesday (12 January) in a redacted format after the company agreed to open the contract up to scrutiny.

The agreement came after months of tensions between European Parliament, arguing that MEPs have the right to access the contracts, and the Commission, who maintain that the release of confidential information is up to the companies.

This is the only contract that is currently available for such scrutiny, although pressure has been mounting on the Commission to release the details of other contracts.

Speaking at an Environment Committee meeting on Tuesday (12 January), Sandra Gallina, deputy director-general of the Commission’s DG for health and food safety and the EU’s lead negotiator on COVID-19 vaccine contracts, assured MEPs that although “very minor things” were omitted from the contract by the company, this would not impinge on the visibility of the contract.

She also noted that MEPs would have full access to the liability clauses of the contract, which has been a bone of contention.

An overview of the redactions of the CureVac COVID-19 contract which was made available to MEPs last week [EURACTIV]

Upon analysis of the contract, 4.22% of the liability section and 15.38% of the indemnification section was found to be redacted, while 0% of the section on the processing of personal data was redacted.

The Annexes, which contain the nitty-gritty of the details of the agreement, were redacted by 61.13%.

In total, 23.79% of the agreement was redacted from view.

A breakdown of the redactions in four key sections of the contract (hover over the graphic for details)

A group of Green MEPs wrote to Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen on Wednesday (20 January) demanding full access to all contracts signed between the EU Commission and pharmaceutical companies for COVID-19 vaccine contracts, arguing that MEPs have the right of access to documents when there is overriding public interest.

“There is a clear public interest in disclosure of these documents and it is the right of European citizens’ representatives to access them, considering that a total of €2.85 billion of public money have been spent on behalf of European citizens,” the letter reads.

Calling for full transparency, one of the signatories of the list, Green MEP Tilly Metz, tweeted: “We have waited long enough, we need clear answers now and demand full transparency. To avoid mistrust and even disinformation among citizens, the contracts must be fully accessible – no more redactions!”


Methodology note

The redacted portions of the contract were filled in with a specific grey colour when the document was released. EURACTIV created a parallel document, redacting all text with the same colour. We proceeded to turn both documents into images, and analysed every page for the number of pixels in that specific grey colour with the help of open source software, subsequently calculating the proportion of text redacted. Our analysis, though different in some respects, was inspired by Vox‘s article on the Mueller report redactions.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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