The European Commission and Pfizer have agreed a deal to cut the number of Covid-19 vaccines supplied to the EU, resolving tensions between the majority of member states over paying for shots that may not be used.
After months of negotiations 24 member states signed up to the amended contract. Poland and Hungary did not support the new deal, while Romania is expected to sign next week. The holdouts had complained that it was not a good use of stretched healthcare budgets, given the fading threat from Covid-19.
US pharmaceutical company Pfizer sold the shots, developed with Germany’s BioNTech, for about $19 a dose under the contract signed in 2021, but the new price has not been disclosed.
The most recent proposal included a new provision for member states to pay half price, about €10, for each dose they cancelled, according to people close to the negotiations. It also proposed that deliveries should total 70mn shots a year until 2026.
Stella Kyriakides, European commissioner for health and food safety, welcomed the new agreement, which also allows countries to delay the delivery of some vaccines for up to four years.
“We have brought the pandemic under control largely through our vaccines and vaccinations. And while Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency, it remains a threat that is likely here to stay. It is crucial therefore that we are prepared for the years to come,” she said.
The original agreement was signed in 2021 as the world grappled with a shortage of jabs and the EU became concerned about delays to the delivery of vaccines from Oxford/AstraZeneca and other suppliers.
Last year, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office confirmed it had launched an investigation into the commission’s acquisition of Covid-19 vaccines. But it did not make further details public. It did not immediately respond to a request to comment on whether the probe is still ongoing.
Pfizer and BioNTech said the amended agreement “reflects the companies’ commitment to working collaboratively to help address ongoing public health needs, while respecting the principles of the original agreement”.
The partners added that the commission would maintain access to Covid vaccines adapted for any future variants and have the ability to donate doses to non-EU countries.
Sales of Covid-19 vaccines have been falling as governments work through existing supplies and contracts, and fewer people take up annual boosters.
But the size of Pfizer and BioNTech’s amended deal still leaves little room for rivals in the EU, leaving the bloc largely dependent on one vaccine, according to health officials and analysts who believe a range of shots is important to hedge against any resurgence of the virus, or the emergence of new variants.