As Poland wants to stop COVID-19 vaccine deliveries it no longer needs, the Polish Health Ministry sent a letter to Pfizer asking for a renegotiation of the deal that the company had signed with the EU.
In a letter seen by EURACTIV, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski asked to change the terms of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine contracts to “ease the financial burden” and prevent thousands of vaccines from being wasted.
Poland is leading a coalition of European countries pushing for a renegotiation of contracts with the US pharmaceutical company, and in March 2023, the European Commission allowed Poland to renegotiate its agreement over vaccine deliveries.
While the minister of health acknowledges that Pfizer’s efforts have resulted in the rapid production of a vaccine widely distributed to European citizens, he does not believe that Pfizer’s efforts have been sufficient, “profit in business should also have its limits”, he said.
The aim is to reduce the number of doses delivered to Poland because only some of the doses were used, and some had to be thrown away because they were expired.
“This is utterly pointless from a public health point of view, as most of them will be destroyed due to the limited shelf life and limited demand,” the letter reads.
The minister pointed out that the EU cannot even use the excess doses to donate them to other parts of the world, as “currently there are no governments interested in accepting donations of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Financial burden points to war in Ukraine
Niedzielski cited the financial burden Poland has faced amidst the war in Ukraine to explain the country’s limited ability to pay for pre-ordered vaccines.
Since the Russian invasion in February 2022, Poland has taken in the most Ukrainian refugees in Europe. In total, over eleven million people have crossed the Polish border to escape the war, according to the border guard.
Since then, 1.5 million Ukrainians have remained in the country, as indicated in the letter. Those people were provided by the Polish government with shelter, healthcare, education, access to the labour market and other services.
“Although solidarity is obvious under the circumstances, the financial cost of these actions is immense,” the minister insisted, adding that Poland would like to continue providing basic social services to the Ukrainian people at the current level.
Poland has been trying to renegotiate the vaccine contract with Pfizer since last year, citing the costs related to accepting refugees from Ukraine as the main reason why the country can no longer pay for the vaccines it ordered under the EU’s joint procurement.
The government tried to invoke the Force Majeure clause in the contract with Pfizer, which the country “has no rationale” to claim, a European Commission official told Reuters in May 2022.
The official said that the war in Ukraine did nothing to change Poland’s vaccination needs, “if anything, it now needs to vaccinate refugees.”
Lack of goodwill
In the letter, Niedzielski accused Pfizer of a lack of goodwill to reach an agreement with Poland and other EU countries.
The minister said that Poland proposed alternative solutions “with a view of consensus on how to move forward” and called Pfizer to put forward its own solutions.
The company’s current proposal involves the reduction of vaccine doses, but still requires the country to pay a cancellation fee, which is half the price for a dose that has not even been produced, Niedzielski insisted.
“Despite my best will to find a compromise, Pfizer is not ready to show satisfactory level of flexibility and to make any realistic proposals answering the changed (health) situation in Europe,” the letter reads.
According to Niedzielski, Pfizer wants to make money from funds allocated by EU member states for public health protection. “Instead of a humanitarian approach, the company only declares its readiness for dialogue,” he wrote.
In the letter, he called on Pfizer to change its approach and show readiness to reach a deal that is satisfactory for both the company and its client states.
“Destroying the vaccines with Pfizer’s logo will not help anyone to claim that the solution was found,” the health minister concluded.
Poland is not the only country struggling with vaccine overstocking, as other countries have been pressuring the Commission to renegotiate contracts.
In March, Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary demanded that the Commission renegotiate the contract with Pfizer on behalf of the member states.
Negotiations with companies on the delivery doses are handled by the so-called “Joint negotiation team”, which consists of the Commission and several member state representatives, the Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.pl in March.
The spokesperson explained that the team reports to a Steering Board consisting of representatives of all member states and the Commission.
(Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | EURACTIV.pl and Clara Bauer | EURACTIV.com)
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