EU mistakenly leaves key parts of AstraZeneca Covid-19 contract unredacted, revealing costs and Soriot's 'best-effort' claim
Tensions between AstraZeneca and the EU regarding slowed vaccine rollout boiled over last week, when the bloc published a heavily redacted version of the company’s contract following criticism of its “best-effort” pledges. But eagle-eyed internet sleuths and German journalists found the blacked-out sections could be easily removed, prompting the EU to publicly apologize.
Among the most noteworthy findings was that the contract itself is worth £870 million, or about $1.19 billion for the 300 million doses, including all direct and indirect costs. There was also a partially cut-off section that detailed how even though AstraZeneca is obligated to supply its doses at no profit, the company “shall not be requested or required to supply the Vaccine Dose…”
German magazine Der Spiegel was the first publication to publish the revelations. The authenticity of the redacted portions has been confirmed by Endpoints News, though anything written after “Dose” could not be recovered.
The contract also provided roadmaps for instances of estimated costs exceeding the £870 million figure. There are two plans in place, should the exceeded costs be either higher or lower than 20%, but the redactions blocking out the plans themselves could not be removed.
Additionally, the document contained a provision for providing additional doses at cost through July 1, at which point AstraZeneca could determine “in good faith” whether or not the pandemic was still going on. That backs up reporting from the Financial Times last October saying the company can declare the pandemic over by that time and start making a profit on vaccines delivered after that date.
The redaction blocking the provision itself, however, also could not be removed.
A European Commission spokesman apologized to AstraZeneca at a press conference Tuesday, saying “it was certainly not our intention for this to happen,” per an EUObserver report. He added, “In order for those contracts to be concluded with the pharmaceutical companies, it was agreed that certain contracts would remain confidential.”
The news comes after a raucous week of back-and-forth between one of the biggest drugmakers in the world and the European governmental body. AstraZeneca notified the bloc late last month that it would deliver more than 60% fewer doses than originally promised, blaming production problems at a Belgian factory. That triggered fiery backlash from the EU, which was already dealing with delays of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and lags in vaccination.
Some critics accused AstraZeneca of selling vaccines intended for Europe to other countries at a higher price. But CEO Pascal Soriot maintained the contract was based on a best-effort delivery clause, a clause that has ostensibly been confirmed by the removed redactions. That could ultimately shield the company from legal action, as a handful of member states like Italy and Poland have considered suing Pfizer over similar slowdowns.
The parties also engaged in a highly public tit-for-tat over whether or not a meeting between the two would occur. The EU had accused AstraZeneca of pulling out of a meeting last Wednesday, but it ultimately went on as planned despite not resolving much.
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