In light of the years during which it was not only taboo to call into question the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, but indeed in many social media forums literally forbidden, perhaps the most astounding provision in the unredacted EU contract with the Pfizer-BioNTech consortium is the clause in the appended order form in which EU member states are required to acknowledge “that the long-term effects and efficacy of the Vaccine are not currently known and that there may be adverse effects of the Vaccine that are not currently known”.
But what makes the clause even more significant and revealing is that it is only in the Pfizer-BioNTech contract. It is not to be found in the EU contracts with Moderna and AstraZeneca, which have also been published in unredacted form.
As discussed in my previous article, the unredacted EU contract or Advanced Purchase Agreement (APA) with Pfizer-BioNTech was revealed by the Italian public broadcaster RAI in April 2021, but its availability has been largely ignored or even actively covered up since then.
The European Commission had previously posted a heavily redacted version online. The RAI posted both the Pfizer-BioNTech APA and the Moderna APA at the same time in connection with an investigative report. Two months earlier, it had already revealed the unredacted AstraZeneca APA, likewise making it available on the RAI server.
(The AstraZeneca document is at least partially searchable. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna documents are not searchable. But helpfully – and somewhat mysteriously – a searchable version of what appears to be an identical copy of the document posted by the RAI is also available on archive.org here.)
The above-cited acknowledgment of the unknown safety and efficacy of the vaccine is contained in Article 1, Paragraph 4 of the Pfizer-BioNTech order form. The article is titled ‘Subject matter’. An analogous “subject matter” article is also contained in the order forms appended to the Moderna and AstraZeneca APAs, but in neither case does the article contain the cited paragraph 4. (See p. 53 of the Moderna APA and pp. 35-36 of the AstraZeneca APA.)
Indeed, in both cases, the “subject matter” article contains only two paragraphs. Paragraph 3 in the Pfizer-BioNTech order form is likewise missing. Paragraph 3 also provides Pfizer and BioNTech extensive additional protections which neither Moderna nor AstraZeneca enjoy.
In particular, it underscores that the member state placing an order is “irrevocably and unconditionally” bound by the terms of the APA requiring indemnification of the manufacturers and releasing them from liability and, furthermore, that the member state itself and the person signing on its behalf have the authority to undertake the obligations in question.
Paragraph 3 reads in full as follows:
3. By signature of this Vaccine Order Form, the undersigned Member State warrants to Contractor that:
a it is irrevocably and unconditionally bound by the terms of the APA (as concluded by the Commission on behalf and in the name of the Participating Member States), including the indemnification obligations and the liability, limitation of liability and exclusions terms set out therein;
b the provisions of the APA are enforceable against it in accordance with its terms;
c it shall indemnify the Indemnified Persons in accordance with Article 1.12 (Indemnification) of the APA;
d it has full right, power and authority to enter into this Vaccine Order Form and to perform its respective obligations under it;
e the person executing this Vaccine Order Form is duly authorised to execute and bind the undersigned Participating Member State to the terms set forth herein and incorporated by reference.
Furthermore, these additional paragraphs in the order form are not the only instances of Pfizer and BioNTech receiving preferential treatment in the APA as compared to their rivals.
Thus, the original RAI article on the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna contracts already noted other instances of such favouritism, including the fact that whereas the Moderna contract allows member states to cancel orders in the event of delivery delays of greater than 90 days, the Pfizer-BioNTech contract merely requires the manufacturers vaguely to “abide by allocation guidelines based on fair and equitable principles” in the event of inability to meet the specified delivery schedule. See “limitation (iv)” on p. 13 of the Pfizer-BioNTech APA.
Indeed, the cited passage contains elaborate provisions which are clearly designed precisely to accommodate delays without penalising the manufacturers. This appears to have been in anticipation of the German company BioNTech, in particular, being unable to meet production targets. Under the terms of the contract, BioNTech is, in principle, responsible for manufacturing all the mRNA for the EU supply of the vaccine. But allowance is made for the mRNA also to be manufactured at “facilities outside Europe” (i.e., presumably Pfizer facilities) if needed “to hasten supply”. (See pp. 12-13 of the Pfizer-BioNTech APA.)
BioNTech, which is the mRNA specialist in the Pfizer-BioNTech alliance and is the actual owner and legal manufacturer of the vaccine, had never previously brought any product to market. It only even arranged to purchase its main manufacturing facility in Marburg in September 2020, just months before vaccine rollout – with the purchase, moreover, being conditional upon the authorisation which it would only obtain in December!
The Dutch data analyst Wouter Aukema and his colleagues at the ‘WOB-Team’ (so named for the Dutch equivalent of The Freedom of Information Act) have likewise noted such preferential treatment in an examination of the unredacted Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca APAs and their implications for the Netherlands. The WOB-Team analysis concludes:
A comparison between the APA’s of Pfizer[-BioNTech] and AstraZeneca show considerable differences in the specific contract terms… The APA with AstraZeneca comprises terms that are mutually balanced. The APA with Pfizer[-BioNTech] can be considered ‘predatory’.
It is not in fact so surprising that EU authorities have displayed such favouritism. This has nothing to do with Pfizer and the corruption of European officials and everything to do with BioNTech and a fundamental conflict of interest which was built into the EU vaccine procurement process from the start.
For the BioNTech vaccine is, after all, the EU’s vaccine – or, more exactly, the EU’s and Germany’s. The EU funded BioNTech and the BioNTech vaccine. The EU’s European Investment Bank, under the direction of former German foreign office official Werner Hoyer, provided BioNTech €150 million in debt financing between December 2019 and June 2020. The first loan was awarded, more precisely, on December 17th 2019, virtually simultaneously with the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. (For the second loan, see here.)
In September 2020, the German government awarded BioNTech €375 million in subsidies for the express purpose of supporting its vaccine candidate. Just two days later, the firm announced it would be purchasing the Behringwerke production facilities in Marburg alluded to above.
But the grant in support of its COVID-19 vaccine was far from being the first subsidies which BioNTech received from the German Government. As recounted in my article on the history of the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership, BioNTech had in fact been receiving public support throughout its relatively brief existence. Indeed, the very founding of the firm in 2008 was sponsored by the German Government.
In June 2020, the European Commission under former German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen took over negotiations with potential COVID-19 vaccine suppliers on behalf of the EU member states. Less than one year earlier, von der Leyen had still been a member of the German Government which would provide BioNTech the €375 million grant. Indeed, she had been a member of all the German Governments which had provided BioNTech financial support from its founding up to that time.
But that is not all. The negotiations were overseen by a steering board comprising all EU member states, but they were conducted by a ‘joint negotiating team’ (JNT) comprising representatives of just seven of them as well as Commission officials. Germany was one of the seven member states represented in the JNT. So, Germany was itself involved in the negotiations with its industrial protégé, BioNTech.
Furthermore, a European Court of Auditors report on the procurement process notes that “in practice the JNT split into sub-groups of representatives from two Member States and Commission officials, each negotiating with a specific vaccine candidate manufacturer” (p. 20). (Hat-tip: the WOB-Team.) Which were the two member states responsible for the negotiations with Pfizer and BioNTech? Was Germany one of them? And which was the member state which, per the same report (p. 19), co-chaired the steering board with the European Commission?