EU paying less than US for range of Covid vaccines

Confidential prices for inoculation drugs revealed by Belgian minister in Twitter blunder

FILE PHOTO: Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

It has been revealed that the European Union is paying less money than the United States for a range of different Covid-19 vaccines, hours after a Belgian minister accidentally revealed confidential and market-sensitive prices of six different candidates in a tweet.

The pricing information was revealed by Secretary of State for Budget Eva De Bleeker on Thursday. A representative for the minister said that she had disclosed the details to settle a political challenge in Belgium, where opposition politicians were accusing the government of not allocating enough money to buy the vaccines.

“We were trying to be transparent but it seems we were a bit too transparent,” the spokesman Bavo De Mol said.

The tweet has since been deleted, but screenshots were obtained by the press.

The ‘leaked’ table shows the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford University is the cheapest, costing only €1.78 ($2.18) per dose, compared to €12 for the Pfizer/BioTech vaccine. The Moderna vaccine is priced highest, at $18 (€14.68).

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine costs $8.50 per dose, while Sanofi/GaxoSmithKline’s is €7.56 and Curevac’s €10.

The European Commission declined to comment on the price list. The table reveals that Belgium’s overall cost of orders for 2020 is €279 million, which was later confirmed by Ms De Bleeker in a tweet.

“The Facts: 33.5 million vaccines will be purchased this year at €279m from the 2020 corona provision. 500 million is also available for the 2021 corona provision [for] vaccines,” she said later on Friday.

A Washington Post comparison breakdown revealed that the EU will pay 45 per cent less than the US for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine still under development. However, the bloc will pay 20 per cent more for the Moderna candidate that is expected to be approved for US use later on Friday.

However, the data revealed that the US is paying more for the Pfizer/BioNTech ($19.50 compared to $14.76) and Sanofi vaccines ($10.50 compared to $9.30). However, it is paying slightly less for the US-manufactured Johnson & Johnson candidate ($10.00 compared to $10.46).

The European Union initially declined an offer in July to buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but in the autumn managed to secure an offer to buy up to 300 million doses. Following the deaths of more than 470,000 Europeans from the coronavirus, the EU is now scrambling to secure more doses of the vaccine.

The fact that the Pfizer drug is more than six times more expensive than AstraZeneca's – most likely because it has a 95 per cent efficacy compared to 70 per cent – could explain the initial hesitation from the bloc. An internal document seen by Reuters said that after a meeting with EU diplomats in July, the bloc had declined the 500 million doses offer because it was deemed too expensive.

The National contacted to some of the vaccine companies for comment on the leak. A Pfizer spokesperson said: "The details of our agreement with the European Commission remain confidential."

Moderna and AstraZeneca did not respond to a request for comment.

The bloc has now secured enough doses to immunise its 448 million citizens twice over, with millions left over to give to poorer nations. As well as 300 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the EU has purchased up to 160 million doses of the Moderna drug. The bloc has also ordered up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, clinical trial data from the first batch of which is being reviewed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the body responsible for approval.

The EMA, which was slow to approve the vaccine compared to the UK and the US, is expected to authorise Pfizer's inoculation on December 21 and Moderna's in early January. The UK declined to join the EU procurement scheme in July and authorised the Pfizer vaccine on December 2.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said distribution of the first vaccine in the EU will be two days after Christmas.

The EU has also secured 405 million doses from the German biotech Curevac; up to 400 million from American pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson; up to 200 million from US company Novovax; and up to 300 million from British and French companies GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi. Like the AstraZeneca candidate, none of those vaccines have been approved for use yet.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they can produce about 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021, but they are trying to expand manufacturing capacity to meet global demand.

Belgium was among eight European countries this week that created a pact to co-ordinate vaccine distribution. The agreement, which also includes France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland (which isn’t an EU member), hopes to ensure the rapid sharing of information about the vaccine for each country.