Vaccine Transparency: How Europe Has Given in to Pharma

Vaccine Transparency: How Europe gave in to the laboratories

LE LIBRE PENSEUR

It’s very simple to understand: The European Commission is submissive to Big Pharma. Period. It is not Salim Laïbi* “the conspirator” who says it, but some European deputies.

*ER: Surgeon-dentist Salim Laibi is Le Libre Penseur

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In spite of the calls for transparency launched by several European deputies, the European Commission refuses to lift the veil on the money it has paid to the laboratories.

It has accepted the confidentiality clauses imposed by the latter.

Brussels, January 12, 2021. Some MEPs have an appointment on the premises of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health. It is a great day for them, and they are not hiding their satisfaction. Since September 2020, they had been demanding access to contracts concluded on behalf of the 27 Member States between the Commission and the pharmaceutical industry. The EU has indeed disbursed nearly three billion euros, but to date, nothing has yet filtered out on the distribution of these sums between the laboratories, nor on the prices set for each vaccine dose. Only one company, Curevac of Germany – whose vaccine was not yet licensed in January – has agreed to play the transparency card by allowing the Commission to make its contract available to MEPs who wish to do so.

But the parliamentarians’ satisfaction is short-lived. They are allowed to consult the document in turn, in a reading room. They are forbidden to take pictures, and they are asked to leave their phones at the entrance. They will only have 45 minutes, watch in hand, to review a 67-page contract. A document of which many passages have also been redacted, expurgated.

The parliamentarians are therefore still hungry. They have learned nothing about the price of vaccines, legal liability clauses, or production sites. Michèle Rivasi MEP is not giving in:

“My job in the Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee is to control what we do with public money. If there is no transparency of contracts, I can’t do my job,” says the elected ecologist, “I’m a puppet!”

After Curevac, two other laboratories were kind enough to partially unveil their contracts with the European Commission: Astra Zeneca and Sanofi. The other companies refuse and the Commission cannot force them to do so. In negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry, the institution has in fact accepted the confidentiality clauses requested by the opposite camp. Business secrecy thus prevails over informing citizens. But the Commission takes the responsibility. “We don’t make these contracts public for the sake of secrecy, we don’t make these contracts public because it was the necessary condition for their signature,” justifies Guillaume Roty, spokesman for the European Commission in France. “It was more important to have secret contracts, than no contracts at all.”

The Belgian blunder

Still, it is possible to get a small idea of the prices Europe has paid for its vaccines. This is thanks to a blunder by the Belgian Secretary of State for the Budget, Eva De Bleeker. In mid-December, she posted on her Twitter account a table detailing the amounts paid to each laboratory for vaccine research and development, as well as the unit price of the doses purchased by the European Union. These details were supposed to remain confidential, and the disclosure of these details has annoyed the industry. “Some laboratories immediately called the Commission and said, ‘You’re breaking the confidentiality clause, so we’re going to attack you,'” says Pascal Canfin, an MEP from the European Parliament.

ER: We went looking for this tweet, which still stands in terms of the text minus the graph. A point which another Twitter user calls her out for. And he then supplies the graphs!

The Belgian Secretary of State quickly deleted her message on Twitter, apologizing for her “excessive transparency”, which occurred in a moment of fatigue. The Commission never wanted to confirm the veracity of the amounts mentioned in this tweet.

To find out if these amounts are accurate, we therefore turned to the French government. The Ministry of Industry informed us that on December 24th, together with the Ministry of Health and the Secretariat of State for European Affairs, it had sent a letter to Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. Worried about the feeling of distrust of a part of the French people towards vaccination, the executive asked Brussels to make all the transparency on the signed contracts.

Letter from French ministers to Stella Kyriakides

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In France, an embarrassed silence

“These contracts are financed by public money and we have to be accountable for the use of public money,” asserts Agnès Pannier-Runacher, who adds that she wants to be as transparent as possible. We therefore asked her to comment on the amounts paid to the pharmaceutical industry disclosed on Twitter by the Belgian Secretary of State. But on this point, there is radio silence. “I’m not allowed to communicate,” she says. “The European Commission is a signatory to the contracts and I don’t want to put it in trouble. »

A Negotiator in Conflict of Interest

Admittedly, Big Pharma imposed silence on the contracts and Brussels complied with its requirements. But it is indeed the European Commission that has itself chosen to make the backstage of the negotiations opaque. In the summer of 2020, seven “super negotiators” were appointed by the member states to begin discussions with the industry on behalf of the 27. Who are these negotiators? How were they chosen? Who negotiated with whom? Again, radio silence. Officially, their names have not been made public to avoid pressure during the discussions. But pressure from whom? The Commission does not say.

Moreover, the Belgian press revealed that the negotiator chosen by Sweden was none other than Richard Bergström, the former director of EFPIA, the main lobby of Big Pharma in Europe. While he signed a declaration of no conflict of interest, the Swedish negotiator would also still be one of the owners of a pharmaceutical company. France, which has also appointed a negotiator, assures to have been very vigilant on this subject. Her curriculum vitae only mentions positions held in public service.

Question from a Member of the European Parliament with a request for a written response

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Answer of the European Commissioner for Health Mrs. Kyriakides on behalf of the European Commission

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Faced with Brussels’ reluctance to release the public documents it was demanding, the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory, which scrutinizes relations between the European Commission and industry, ended up filing a complaint with the institution’s ombudsman. The latter opened an investigation. Several MEPs have joined this procedure.

“America first”

To understand why the European Commission does not want to make the price of vaccines transparent, we may have to look at the United States. While President Donald Trump caused worldwide consternation when he spoke on April 24 about the possibility of using bleach to get rid of the virus in the body, his administration did not treat pandemic issues with the same lightness. Quite the contrary. As early as February, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a powerful institution within the U.S. Department of Health, put more than $10 billion on the table to help pharmaceutical companies around the world develop and manufacture a vaccine. Thus, Sanofi Pasteur received $30 million in funding as early as March 2020 to develop a vaccine with one of its entities, Protein Sciences Corporation.

Sanofi’s contract with the BARDA

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A few months later, the French manufacturer signed a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a vaccine and purchase 100 million doses for the United States. For this, the Americans are prepared to pay up to 2.1 billion dollars to Sanofi.

Sanofi’s contract with the U.S. Army

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An American NGO, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), has managed to obtain access to most of the contracts signed by the United States with the pharmaceutical industries (all these contracts can be consulted here). “The contract with Sanofi is very interesting,” notes Manon Ress of KEI. “It contains an international reference price clause that states that Sanofi cannot sell its vaccine to the G7 countries or Switzerland at a lower price than that charged in the U.S.” “The contract with Sanofi is very interesting, notes Manon Ress of KEI.”

But as soon as the health crisis began, the United States helped other European companies. They even went so far as to “dredge” certain start-ups with promising results. “Trump approached the biotech company Curevac, which was preparing a messenger RNA vaccine,” explains Martin Pigeon of the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory. He actually wanted to secure a monopoly on it. That’s his “America first” policy line, which is me first and the rest of the world can die. “Curevac could have decided to go to the United States and get support there under the conditions set by the American government,” confirms Jean-David Malo, Director General of Research and Innovation at the European Commission. But the company preferred to stay in Europe. There has been an awareness of supporting Europe’s technological sovereignty.” For Jean-David Malo, “we could have feared an exodus, but this exodus did not take place.”

Labs under American infusion

The fact that the United States dealt with European companies at an early stage left its mark on the negotiations in Brussels. In addition to placing certain laboratories under financial infusion, Washington guaranteed them very favourable legal conditions, agreeing to exonerate them from any liability in the event of any problems in terms of production, as well as health. This explains why the companies tried to obtain the same clauses in Europe. “Pfizer came into the negotiations by saying: ‘What we want is for the US law of legal liability to apply,'” said elected representative Pascal Canfin, who chairs the European Parliament’s Environment and Health Committee. The European Commission has said, ‘It’s out of the question. And so it took months! “, he deplores.

Admittedly, the Commission has finally accepted a responsibility “shared” with the laboratories. But in case of serious adverse reactions with a vaccine, only Brussels will be held responsible. The Member States would then be responsible for compensating the victims. According to Martin Pigeon of Corporate Europe Observatory, the labs are the big winners in these negotiations:

“We are in a configuration where the risks are for everyone. But the profits are only for the pharmaceutical industry.”

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