US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — During a pandemic, pharmaceutical companies reign supreme. European states are convinced of this the hard way, having become victims of manipulation by Pfizer and BioNTech, who have found a way to cut the supply of vaccine vials to European states by 20% on the pretext that a sixth dose can be extracted from them.
This step will significantly increase the profits of companies and, it is argued, should not harm states. In fact, it can only complicate vaccination even more.
The “sixth dose” issue surfaced in late December when German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that Pfizer’s partner BioNTech had asked the European regulator to change the terms of the authorization so that doctors could use the excess product in the vials to form a sixth dose. (originally it was supposed to use five).
At the time, it was not a question of what European states would have to pay for such a potential sixth dose. In late December, Der Spiegel wrote the opposite: “BioNTech itself claims that it will not receive any financial benefit from more efficient use of the vials. “We do not charge for the sixth dose,” a company spokesman said. “Only five doses per bottle will continue to be paid for”.
On January 8, the European Medicines Agency confirmed the companies’ claims about the possibility of removing the sixth dose from the vaccine vial. This was welcomed by many as good news: the extra dose for one amount of the vaccine should have allowed more people to be vaccinated.
In vain. The sixth dose will not bring any benefit to the states. The fact is that this week the companies have already adjusted the volume of supplies in accordance with the new alignment: since the European authorities say that one bottle will be enough to vaccinate more people, Pfizer will ship fewer bottles to Europe. Moreover, from a legal point of view, the company is right. “Government orders from Pfizer are for the total number of doses, not the vials,” his spokesman said.
France‘s General Directorate of Health confirmed the bad news on Wednesday. “If earlier Pfizer sent 20 vials for 100 doses, now they will send 16.6 vials,” said a spokesman for the department. In addition, he pointed to the inconsistency of the figures announced in recent days. The Ministry of Health said that they received 383 thousand doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week, while Prime Minister Jean Castex talked about 320 000. He was still pushing five doses per bottle, while the Ministry had already adopted new rules of the game with six.
For Pfizer-BioNTech, all this is, of course, a great financial success. European countries are waiting for 600 million doses of the vaccine (so far they have received only a tiny fraction). In a nutshell, the companies will now be able to fulfill the terms of the contract by supplying 100 million bottles, instead of 120 million.
This will save them 20 million vials (120 million doses) that can be resold. Considering that, according to leaks, the purchase price of one dose is 12 euros (for Europe), potentially the companies will earn an additional 1.5 billion. Pfizer said the vials saved in this way will be sent to developing countries, but in fact, nothing prevents them from selling them elsewhere.
European states have no reason to be happy. Until recently, countries paid for a bottle of five doses and a possible “bonus” sixth. They will now pay for a six-dose bottle without guaranteeing that the sixth will be received in all cases.
Although the extraction of the sixth dose is practiced in other countries (in particular in the UK and the USA), everything is quite complicated with it. “You can’t just go from five doses to six. Extracting six doses is more difficult and requires training. We kept this in mind as an option. Now we are obliged to do this, ”the French authorities admit. These logistical challenges are of little concern to Pfizer: “After providing the vaccine, we provided the health authorities with recommendations on the necessary medical equipment, including syringes and needles.”
There was already growing frustration among European governments over Pfizer’s announced delays, and the situation with the sixth dose is clearly not improving the situation. “The member states have started to consider the issue within the framework of the steering committee. There will be defined potential contractual consequences,”- dryly comment in the European Commission.
Some states have already expressed confusion or even anger. “We knew there was room for adjustment by Pfizer,” said Sabine Stordeur of the Belgian Vaccine Administration. – This is a commercial enterprise, there is nothing to be surprised at. It was a mistake to believe that we can get an extra dose.”
Even before the situation with the sixth doha, Italy announced its intention to sue Pfizer for delays and reduced supplies. The head of the crisis cell, Domenico Arcuri, said this could be done in the coming days.
Contact us: [email protected]