You denounce the opacity that surrounds the contracts between the European Union and the laboratories that produce the Covid vaccines. Concretely, what information do you have access to?
Marc Botenga. Last week, we had access to the contract concluded between the European Commission and the German laboratory Curevac, whose vaccine is not yet ready. And this morning, we were promised that we would have access to the Pfizer and BioNTech contract, but we don’t have any practical information on that yet. I went to see the Curevac contract at the EU Directorate General for Health. You are taken to a small reading room where there is a European Commission official watching you. You must give your laptop, your computer, and you can leaf through the contract, but which has obviously been purged of the elements that the European Commission considers sensitive or confidential, that is to say, all the elements that interest us. These are prices, delivery times, the legal liability of laboratories with regard to any adverse effects of vaccines, and obviously what is effectively commercial secrecy, such as product details. In fact, the European Commission is hiding behind trade secrecy, but I have found that in the United States, a large part of these contracts are public, and in addition, the price and number of doses are proudly announced. that will be provided. The excuse of the European Commission therefore does not hold water.
Suddenly, what do we know precisely about the contracts between the European Union and the laboratories that supply the vaccines?
Marc Botenga We lack official information, I find it a huge problem. The European Commission is said to have ordered a total of 2.3 billion doses for the entire European Union, orders made even from companies whose vaccine has not yet been approved. This is a quantity of doses that would make it possible to vaccinate 5 times the European population, so we should have more than enough. Now, are all of these vaccines going to come on the market, will they all be effective, that remains to be seen, since at the moment only two have been approved, and another which launched the procedure for accessing the European market, AstraZeneca. Johnson and Johnson are also expected to do so, but as of yet, it’s not known.
Who ultimately pays for the vaccines?
Marc Botenga There were actually 2 phases. At the start, a series of pre-purchases were made through the European Emergency Mechanism which was set up with money from the Member States. But then the European Union mostly negotiated on behalf of the Member States, and in the end, it is the States that pay. After that, you should know that the majority of these vaccines were developed with public money. Through its vaccination strategy, the European Commission wanted to remove the commercial risk from companies and transfer it to national budgets and European budgets. It is a remarkable procedure where all the risk is taken by the public authorities. I asked a written question about the civil liability clauses in the event of a hidden defect. The Commission confirmed to me that this responsibility rests with the States, and not with the laboratories, for the occurrences listed in the contracts. We therefore pay 3, 4, 5 times for this vaccine: at the time of the research and development stage, at the time of the production stage, in case there are hidden defects, and also when we buy it. So vaccine funding is very, very largely public.
You also denounce the fact that the European Union monopolizes vaccines while other countries in the world which need them do not have access to them. What is the current situation ?
Marc Botenga The European Commission speaks of solidarity with the rest of the world, but the figures speak for themselves. On Monday, the director of the WHO (World Health Organization) said 49 rich countries have already administered 39 million doses, while in the 20 countries with the lowest income levels there have been 25 doses of vaccines that have been administered. There is a huge problem, especially since the alternatives exist. India and South Africa have asked to suspend the patent so that they themselves can produce a vaccine. The European Union, with Switzerland, Canada, the United States, all those who have pharmaceutical laboratories in their territories, refused. Yet there is a mechanism at the WHO that would make it possible to share the Covid 19 vaccine technology and give access to the vaccine to many more people, and therefore to end the pandemic more quickly. Because if the pandemic continues to rage in South Africa, the risk that it will spread throughout the world is quite significant.
Do you perceive a movement in the direction of this sharing?
Marc Botenga The fact that South Africa and India are at the head of a coalition of more than 100 countries which request it, shows that Europe and the United States are very largely in the minority at the global level. And then there is a European citizens’ initiative which wants to collect a million signatures to force the European Commission to go in this direction, not to mention that more and more health experts are calling for this sharing. When you look at this issue from a global public health perspective, you have no choice. This is the right option.