The European Commission should be much more transparent about negotiations with pharmacists on a corona vaccine. That’s what the European patient organisation EPHA says. There is also criticism in the European Parliament: due to the secrecy of the Commission, no one knows what is in the contracts concluded on behalf of all Europeans.
Negotiations between the Commission and six pharmaceutical companies take place entirely behind closed doors. The British business newspaper Financial Times recently revealed that in those negotiations pharmaceutical companies have asked governments to bear the costs if a vaccine has hidden faults and makes people sick. People who fall ill could go to court to claim compensation from the pharmaceutical company, but governments would eventually pay for it.
“Full transparency is crucial,” says Bas Eickhout, MEP for GroenLinks now. He wants to know to what extent companies have actually been able to negotiate with the European Commission that they do not have to pay any compensation themselves. “We have to ensure that there is confidence in the vaccine. This can only be achieved by being transparent and by placing responsibility with the developer. The developer shouldn’t shift the responsibility to the government.”
Officials of the European Commission have been told that taking over part of the risks by governments is not at all crazy. Governments want a corona vaccine as soon as possible, which means that companies are now taking only one year rather than ten years to develop it. This makes it difficult to investigate the long-term side effects of a vaccine. This increases the risk of problems arising in small specific groups of patients.
At the same time those officials say that safety must not be cut back and that safety must always come first. That is also the opinion of the European Patients’ Organisation EPHA. That is precisely why contracts should be public, says Yannis Natsis of the patient organisation.
“There is pressure on all sides to come up with a vaccine quickly,” says Natsis. “But that should not lead to pharmaceutical companies making unreasonable demands. The best way to prove that that doesn’t happen is to publish the contract – or at least the sensitive parts of it. That way they can assure us that public health is the top priority.”
“You’re throwing your own windows in
But the question is whether publishing is that easy. Pharmacists can therefore see each other’s contracts. If the EU pays 5 euros each for one vaccine, the next pharmacist will see that as a minimum price, the fear is.
For this reason, CDA MEP Esther de Lange does not think more transparency is desirable at the moment. “Of course I would like to see the contract, but still my thesis is: you throw in your own windows if you make everything public. The vaccine may then become more expensive, companies may be less inclined to talk to you and we mainly want a vaccine now”
The Commission hopes to have the first vaccines by the end of this year, but the quantity will be small. Only next year would it be possible to vaccinate really large parts of the population.