Ireland central to new EU deal on Pfizer vaccines

Contract signed for 1.8bn doses but they must be produced in Europe

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has signed a new vaccine supply contract with Pfizer that commits to sourcing key vaccine components within the EU. Photograph: Julien Warnand

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has signed a new vaccine supply contract with Pfizer that commits to sourcing key vaccine components within the EU. Photograph: Julien Warnand

 

Pfizer must manufacture vaccines and source ingredients within the European Union under a new contract signed with the European Commission for 1.8 billion doses of its Covid-19 jab.

The commission formally signed a contract with Pfizer and BioNTech on Thursday to secure 1.8 billion additional doses of the vaccine. The contract requires that the vaccine is produced in the EU and that “essential components are sourced from the EU”, the commission said in a statement.

The terms of the deal make Dublin’s Grange Castle plant central to delivery of the doses under the new contract. Pfizer announced on Wednesday that the west Dublin plant will produce the active drug substance for the company’s vaccine from the end of this year following an urgent $40 million (€32.7 million) investment in the plant.

It will be only the second plant worldwide – and the only one outside the United States – to manufacture drug substance, which is the key ingredient in the vaccine.

Pfizer is also investing in its Croatian plant in Zagreb which will manufacture other raw material for the vaccine under the new EU contract, a spokesman said. Pfizer said it was also working with outside companies – including Baxter, Sanofi and Thermo Fisher Scientific – on sterile filling of vials, packaging, cold chain storage and drug product formulation.

“The additional 900 million agreed doses are expected to be delivered on a monthly schedule beginning December 2021 and continuing into 2023,” Pfizer said in a statement. “This new agreement is in addition to the 600 million doses that have already been committed to the EU through 2021.”

The contract stipulates that “from the start of the supply in 2022, the delivery to the EU is guaranteed”, the commission noted.

EU member states will get access to 900 million doses of the current Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and of a version of the vaccine adapted to variants. They will also have the option of taking a further 900 million doses over the two years.

One step ahead

“We need to be one step ahead of the virus,” said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides. “This means having access to adapted vaccines to protect us against the threat of variants, booster vaccines to prolong immunity, as well as protecting our younger population.

“Our focus is a priority on technologies that have proven their worth, like mRNA vaccines, but we keep our options open. The past months have clearly demonstrated the need to have access to a broad portfolio of vaccines and different technologies, as well as reliable partners.”

She added that as the pace of vaccination increases “and work on effective therapeutics intensifies, we can look ahead with more optimism and confidence”.

Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said the drug giant was working to determine if, “similar to seasonal influenza, annual vaccination may provide the most enduring protection” against Covid-19.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “With our signature, the contract is now in force, which is good news for our long-term fight to protect European citizens against the virus and its variants.” She said production and delivery of up to 1.8 billion doses under the contract was now guaranteed and said a similar model would follow in potential contracts signed in the future with other suppliers.

“Thanks to the well-established co-operation with the companies under the current contracts and arrangements put in place, timely deliveries of the doses are ensured,” the commission said. It remains in dispute with rival vaccine producer AstraZeneca over ongoing delays in supply and contractual interpretation.

Dr von der Leyen said the deal would strengthen EU vaccine production capacity “thus allowing [it] to serve other markets across the world”. It also strengthened the possibility of member states reselling or donating doses to countries in need outside the EU or through the Covax facility, the commission said.