May 20. 2024. 11:55

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Pfizer France head: COVID vaccine contract talks remain a ‘business secret’

The negotiations that led to the European Commission brokering the controversial COVID-19 vaccine contracts with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer remain “a business secret”, the chairman of Pfizer France told French Senators during a hearing on Wednesday (29 March).

Following the questioning of Pfizer in Brussels – where efforts to shed light on the contracts have been going on for nearly two years – it was the turn of the French Senate to grill Pfizer over the content of the COVID-19 vaccine contracts it signed with the European Commission at the start of the pandemic.

On Wednesday afternoon, Pfizer France head Reda Guiha was questioned by the Senate’s committee of enquiry into drug shortages, chaired by Sonia de la Provôté (Union Centriste group), with questions put forward by rapporteur Laurence Cohen of the Communist Party.

Following revelations by the New York Times in April 2021, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla are believed to have negotiated a contract involving 1.8 billion COVID-19 doses over phone texts.

Other contracts between Pfizer and the EU, while accessible to EU parliamentarians, are also being criticised for being heavily redacted.

“Why were the contracts that were signed with Pfizer and the European Commission not made public, especially the 1.8 billion dose contract?” Cohen asked Guiha.

In response, Guiha said the contracts were discussed between Pfizer’s parent company and the European Commission.

“This part is really a business secret. This is the rule we have put in place,” he said.

Guiha did not reveal more to the senators as discussions continued on the price of vaccines, the management of drug shortages, and innovation.

Cohen said that making the contracts more transparent “would help improve public confidence because there are strong doubts”, but he also praised Pfizer for a vaccine that has saved “many people”.

New York Times takes EU Commission to court over ‘Pfizergate’ affair

The New York Times is suing the European Commission for failing to make public the text messages exchanged between Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Von der Leyen ‘never involved in negotiations’

In Brussels, the fight to shed more light on the contracts has been raging for almost two years.

The European Parliament’s special COVI committee – tasked with overseeing lessons learned from the pandemic and making recommendations for the future – held a hearing with EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on Monday.

Kyriakides insisted that von der Leyen had played no role in negotiating the vaccine contracts.

“The Commission president was not involved in any contract negotiations. I have said it before and I will say it again,” said Kyriakides, who faced many questions from MEPs on the subject.

Kyriakides recalled that all contracts with Pfizer, as well as with other pharmaceutical companies, had gone through the proper legislative process.

“There was a joint negotiating team and a steering committee,” she said.

The steering committee is responsible for granting a negotiating mandate to the negotiating team, which is composed of representatives of both the Commission and the member states.

“The member states have always had the possibility of rejecting a contract […] They were perfectly aware of the conditions of the contracts,” the Commissioner also said.

Commissioner: Von der Leyen not involved in vaccine contract talks

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides insisted EU executive chief Ursula von der Leyen did not have any role whatsoever in negotiating COVID vaccine contracts, during a heated hearing before the European Parliament’s Special Committee on COVID-19 on Monday (27 March).