Relations are increasingly strained between Pfizer and its European customers for the delivery of the anti-Covid vaccine, even if the balance of power is still clearly in favor of the American laboratory.
On January 15, it announced a temporary slowdown in production, in order to adapt its plant in Puurs (Belgium) to the increase in production rates. This decision has provoked the anger and concern of many Member States of the European Union, already widely criticized for the mess at the start of the first vaccination campaigns. Italy has even announced that it is considering legal actions against the group.
→ THE FACTS. Vaccine, Pfizer’s delay is making waves in Europe
But Pfizer has further escalated the tension by announcing Thursday, January 21, that it would adapt its deliveries based now on six doses per vial.
Use very fine needles to limit losses
Until now, the distribution of the vaccine between the countries (established according to the population of each of them) was done on the basis of five available doses per vial, but the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had estimated , in a technical recommendation of January 8, that it was possible to extract a sixth, provided certain rules were respected. She recommended in particular the use of very fine needles, in order to limit the losses of the precious liquid.
The interest is obviously to be able to immunize a greater number of people, while avoiding waste, while the raw material is still lacking. But according to the Directorate General of Health, recovering this “sixth dose” is not possible everywhere since it requires both the appropriate equipment and a certain dexterity of the caregiver.
Pfizer has a different take on the subject, which seems a little more mercantile. According to him, « the use of extra-volume “ contained in each bottle changes the rules of the contract with the European Commission, because the promised volumes were calculated in dose and not in bottle.
This interpretation of Pfizer can also be analyzed as a way for the laboratory to “cover” itself in relation to signed contracts. “We will keep our delivery commitments to the States in accordance with the orders that have been placed”, says the group in a statement.
In total, the EU placed a first order for 300 million doses from Pfizer, followed by a second in December for 200 million more doses, with an option on an additional 100 million.
Mechanically, the laboratory will thus adapt its deliveries accordingly, in other words reduce the number of vials distributed to each country. Clearly, the some 500,000 weekly doses promised to France in January, will be divided into 85,000 bottles and no longer 100,000.
Opacity around contracts
The gain for the laboratory could be substantial and the cost for public finances would be just as much, even if the greatest opacity reigns around the financial conditions concluded with Brussels. The Commission explains that it has made confidentiality commitments with Pfizer, whose communication remains very minimalist.
The first order would have been placed around € 15.5 per dose, while for the second, the price retained would be € 12, according to several sources, not confirmed. Taking into account the two injections required, the cost of a vaccination would therefore vary between € 24 and € 31.
Waiting for AstraZeneca vaccine
The amount is very high compared to the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca with the Oxford laboratory, which will be sold at cost price, i.e. € 1.78 per dose. Its placing on the market should be authorized in the coming days by the European authorities, which ordered 400 million doses.
Of conventional design, this vaccine is easier to distribute since it does not require very low temperatures and large volumes have already been produced. France hopes to have 10 million doses by the end of March.