The pharmaceutical industry across Europe is working at an unprecedented level to find a cure to the virus that has sent shock waves around the globe.
But these companies that are looking to save millions of lives are also looking to save their own skin.
Clauses are being included in the contract negotiations with the European Commission that say Member States must share responsibility with the businesses in the event of any unwanted side effects caused by a vaccine.
The Commission’s spokesperson, Vivian Loonela, said that it is “in our interest to have a vaccine as soon as possible”.
“That is why we have included in these contracts with pharmaceutical companies, a clause to compensate the producers in the event of certain responsibilities,” she added.
According to the pharmaceutical sector, the aim is to prevent any long, drawn out lawsuits, which would also work in the favour of patients: “The governments could create a fund which then is administered and if there is an adverse reaction to a particular vaccine, then citizens can have the confidence that they can access those funds quickly,” Andy Powrie-Smith, from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, told Euronews.
But experts have condemned the lack of transparency and stressed the importance of knowing exactly what kind of obligations are in these contracts, particularly at a time when anti-vaxxer campaigns are on the rise.
One expert from the European Public Health Alliance, Yannis Natsis, said that negotiations should not be carried out behind closed doors by unelected officials.
“It is pointless to say and explain that this is fundamental for the confidence in vaccines and for public trust in the handling of a public health emergency, as well as for patient safety. These are very sensitive issues that should not be negotiated by some bureaucrats behind closed doors,” Natsis said.
With the European Commission negotiating with some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, deals have already been struck in view of acquiring successful vaccines under the best conditions.
One deal has already been struck with pharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca, to acquire 300 million vaccine doses and pre-order agreements have also been concluded with Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Curevac and Moderna.
Member States will be allocated a certain number of doses proportionate to their population, but according to Ellen ‘t Hoen, an international medical activist, this could be a race with too few winners: “What I am still worried about is that wealthy nations are in a position to make this purchase commitments or these advanced purchase commitments unilaterally, whilst poorer countries do not have that option.”
This situation is exactly what the European Commission is trying to avoid though and its commitment to the WHO’s global vaccine access initiative, COVAX, is aimed at ensuring everyone in this race is a winner.