Health Minister Adam Niedzielski published an open letter on social media addressed to Pfizer shareholders, in which he criticized the company’s activities. As he wrote, Pfizer “plans to supply hundreds of millions of vaccines to Europe, although it is completely pointless from a public health point of view” and stressed that “a fundamental overhaul of vaccine contracts is necessary.”
The dispute between the Polish authorities and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer concerns contracts obliging Poland to purchase subsequent batches of vaccines against COVID-19. In the face of many months of oversupply of these preparations, as well as burdens on public finances as a consequence of the Russian armed aggression against UkrainePoland decided to renegotiate agreements concluded at an earlier stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister of Health Adam Niedzielski in an open letter published on Tuesday, he reminded that “since the beginning of the pandemic, Pfizer Inc. has been part of the response to COVID-19.” “As one of the key players in the global pharmaceutical industry, Pfizer has been able to invent, manufacture and ship one of the most widely accepted COVID-19 vaccines to many countries, helping to save tens of millions of lives worldwide ” – he wrote.
However, as he noted, “for obvious reasons – it did not take place without due gratification for the risk, investments and other costs inherent in every business project”. “It goes without saying that profit is the best business incentive. However, even in business it should have its limits” – indicated the head health ministry.
Addressing the shareholders of the American pharmaceutical company, Niedzielski pointed to new problems that took the place of the pandemic crisis: “the largest wave of migration in Europe since World War II, caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine, followed by an energy crisis and unprecedented inflation for decades.” He reminded that since the Russian attack in February 2022, “almost 11 million people have crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border, and almost 1.5 million people have stayed in Poland and found a new home.”
“The Polish government offered them free shelter, health care, education, adaptation to the labor market and many other services that these people deserve” – emphasized the head of the Ministry of Health. “Polish state administration at all levels directed all available funds to help and support our neighbors. This involves huge financial outlays” – he noted.
“We live in a different reality than two years ago”
Niedzielski pointed out that the epidemic situation in the European Union countries has stabilized, and “despite this, Pfizer still plans to deliver hundreds of millions of vaccines to Europe.”
“It is completely pointless from a public health point of view as most of it will be destroyed due to limited shelf life and limited demand,” the health minister noted in the letter. He noted that it is not even an option to give away surplus preparations to more needy countries, because “currently there are no governments interested in accepting donations of COVID-19 vaccines – even for free.” Meanwhile, acceptance [zakup – przyp. red.] of these vaccines causes a huge financial burden even for the authorities of developed European countries, making it difficult to cover the remaining health needs” – he pointed out.
“Today, we live in a completely different reality than two years ago. Global enterprises such as Pfizer must be aware of this and actively implement corporate social responsibility. This will not be possible without an additional agreement with Pfizer on a thorough revision of contracts for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines 19 and relieve the governments concerned” – emphasized the head of the Ministry of Health in a letter to the shareholders of the American concern.
“Instead of showing solidarity, the company still wants to earn money”
Niedzielski recalled that “the Polish government is in constant dialogue with the management of Pfizer about how we can remedy this situation. Difficulties with accepting the proposed number of vaccines have been repeatedly pointed out (…) with a view to reaching an agreement on further actions. We also called on company to come up with alternative realistic solutions that we might consider. Pfizer’s current proposal is to reduce supplies but still require a cancellation fee – half the price for a dose that hasn’t even been produced,” noted the minister. In the opinion of the head of the Ministry of Health, “Pfizer is not ready to show a satisfactory level of flexibility and make any realistic proposal that would correspond to a completely different situation in Europe.” As Niedzielski said, “instead of showing solidarity, the company still wants to earn money from the funds allocated by EU Member States for the protection of public health” and “only declares its readiness for dialogue.” “I regret to say that the company that we all thought was part of the solution for a long time (…) is now itself part of the problem,” reads the letter signed by the Minister of Health.
“As the guardian of the public health interest, I call on Pfizer to uphold trust in the vaccination process and assume responsibility towards EU citizens and Member States, and to act in good faith for a solution that is just for all” – concluded Adam Niedzielski.
Agreements with other vaccine manufacturers
As the Minister of Health informed at the beginning of April, agreements on changing vaccine contracts have been reached with two manufacturers of preparations – Moderna and Novavax. Under pressure from the health ministers of Poland and other countries – Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary – which do not agree to continue the implementation of contracts on the current terms, in March this year Pfizer was involved in negotiations with Pfizer European Commission.
From December 27, 2020, when vaccination against COVID-19 began in Poland, until April 2023, 57 million 966 thousand vaccines were administered. On April 15 this year, e-referrals were issued for the fifth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for 1.7 million people.
Main photo source: Radek Pietruszka/PAP