EU Well being Commissioner Stella Kyriakides insisted EU govt chief Ursula von der Leyen didn’t have any position by any means in negotiating COVID vaccine contracts, throughout a heated listening to earlier than the European Parliament’s Particular Committee on COVID-19 (COVI) on Monday (27 March).
Following revelations by the New York Occasions in April 2021, European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla got here underneath suspicion of getting instantly negotiated a €1.8 billion contract extension for extra doses to EU nations through textual content messages.
“The Fee president was not concerned in any COVID vaccine contract negotiations. I’ve stated this earlier than and I’ll say it once more,” Kyriakides instructed MEPs when questioned in regards to the transparency of those talks.
The Well being Commissioner reiterated that every one COVID vaccines contract, with Pfizer or different producers, had gone by what is about up within the legislative course of. “There was a joint negotiating staff and a steering committee,” she stated.
The steering committee is liable for granting a negotiating mandate to the negotiating staff, which consists of representatives of each the Fee and the member states.
“The Member States have at all times had the opportunity of rejecting a contract […] They have been completely conscious of the circumstances of the contracts,” the Commissioner stated.
After signing the deal, each Pfizer and the European Fee have justified the shortage of transparency on contracts – which have been supplied to lawmakers solely at a later stage with in depth redacted components – by confidentiality clauses.
A number of MEPs, together with the COVI chair, the socialist Kathleen Van Brempt, insisted that lawmakers ought to be capable of see all contracts signed with out redactions.
“We now have achieved our greatest to maintain MEPs knowledgeable whereas considering contractual obligations,” Kyriakides stated, acknowledging, nevertheless, that Fee’s solutions to lawmakers haven’t been ‘absolutely satisfying’ as a result of secrecy clauses within the contracts.
In 2020, the European Fee ordered doses of vaccine in opposition to the COVID-19 virus on behalf of the member states. A number of vaccine producers, together with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, and Sanofi have signed contracts with the Fee.
Thus far, because of grouped purchases of vaccines, 70% of the European inhabitants is vaccinated, stated Kyriakides.
Amongst these contracts, MEPs have been significantly within the third and largest contract signed between the Fee and the American big Pfizer, in partnership with the German laboratory BioNTech.
When journalist Alexander Fanta of the information web site netzpolitik.org requested for entry to the textual content messages revealed by the NY Occasions, the Fee replied that it had not ‘recognized’ them and that it may now not discover them.
These statements by the Fee led to a criticism by European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly in January 2022, who known as the EU govt to order and urged the Fee to “conduct a extra thorough seek for related messages.”
Invited twice to clarify himself to the members of the COVI Fee, Albert Bourla by no means confirmed up.
Again in January, Pfizer’s representatives had confronted the chance of exclusion from the European Parliament, earlier than the Convention of Presidents of the Parliament’s political teams voted in opposition to the request by COVI MEPs.
On March 6, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola despatched a letter to von der Leyen requesting entry to the contracts in a safe room for MEPs.
“We’re doing every part doable to make sure that you get a response to Roberta Metsola’s letter,” replied Stella Kyriakides.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Nathalie Weatherald]