The European Union was offered an extra 500 million doses of the vaccine now making it’s way across Europe, but turned the offer down, Der Spiegel reports.
The offer came from BioNTech, the German partner of the American pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer. The EU had already signed a contract for 200 million doses, with an option of 100 million more.
According to the magazine, citing sources familiar with the negotiations, the objection came mainly from France. The French company Sanofi had been given a contract for 300 million doses of its own vaccine, which has yet to obtain approval.
The French government objected to the offer from BioNTech because it would bring the total bought from the company to 800 million doses.
As revealed earlier this month in an ill-advised tweet by junior government minister Eva De Bleeker, the EU paid €12 a dose for the Pfizer vaccine, and contracted to pay €7.56 a dose for the Sanofi/GSK vaccine. In the end, however, the total sums paid for each contract came to €65 million and €62 million respectively.
The magazine says Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn has pressed for the EU – which was negotiating on behalf of the 27 member states to prevent the smaller countries being priced out of the market by the larger ones – to take up the offer of more vaccines, but his appeal was not accepted.
As things stand at the moment, Belgium has a lengthy vaccination schedule that will first deal with care home residents, health care and front-line workers, the over-65s and those with chronic conditions. The latter categories are expected to be dealt with in May, but there is no fixed timetable for dates later than that.
In the meantime, the Sanofi/GSK vaccine is tied up in obtaining approval, after participants in one trial received a lower dose of vaccine than intended, making the results invalid. The company had to cancel a Phase 3 trial planned for December, and now hopes to start a Phase 2b trial in February.
But the delay confronts the company with a major problem: by the time that trial starts, the Pfizer vaccine will be rolling out to populations all over Europe, and Sanofi may find it difficult to recruit volunteers for a trial in which some of them are certain to be administered a placebo.
The EU meanwhile declined to comment on the Der Spiegel report. “We do not comment on the progress of the negotiations,” said spokesperson for health commissioner Stella Kyriakides.