Other negotiations with the Commission are in earlier stages and can take different forms, say diplomats. Two of the diplomats said the Commission is also starting discussions with smaller biotech companies, including US-based Moderna and Germany’s CureVac.
Finally, the Commission is discussing with AstraZeneca transfer of an already signed contract with four EU Member States – the Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy – according to a diplomat to the Commission. However, a major bottleneck remains with regard to liability.
According to the deal between AstraZeneca and the four EU countries, the company will enjoy “a number of privileges” with regard to damages that violate EU law, the diplomat said. Given the circumstances regarding coronavirus vaccines, the EU may accept some of these liability clauses.
The Commission would not confirm which companies it is negotiating with or when it will close its first deal, but a spokesman said the negotiations are going well.
While the Commission is still in talks with many companies, other rich countries continue to deal.
The American deal was announced on Wednesday for a vaccine made by BioNTech and Pfizer. This is the third deal the US has closed, after another 300 million doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and 100 million doses for another from Novavax. The US has also given billions of research dollars to six vaccine developers, although this does not give the country access to the vaccines.
The UK the week also started announce a deal for BioNTech and Pfizer to deliver up to 30 million vaccine doses, and another 100 million doses from French vaccine company Valneva.
The speed with which the Commission signs or does not sign contracts is not necessarily a bad sign, but may be a cause for concern for the bloc, given the EU’s previous failed attempts to buy items during the pandemic.
The Commission has concluded contracts for protective equipment and fans through the joint procurement agreement, but few countries have ever placed their orders.
The Commission buys vaccines through another mechanism, the Emergency Aid Instrument, which was set up to avoid the bureaucracy of the joint procurement agreement. It also had recast the DG SANTE summit Enlist Sandra Gallina from DG TRADE to negotiate vaccination agreements.
Each EU country has a seat on the vaccine strategy steering committee, but six provinces – France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland and Sweden – make up the negotiating team, a spokesman for the Commission said.
However, the joint tenders fail were a major reason behind the formation of an alliance between the four EU Member States so that they could negotiate vaccinations sooner fold the alliance in the work of the Commission.
The UK decided to go alone earlier this month, explicitly reject the EU’s offer to buy vaccines together.
Another bottleneck in the Commission’s vaccine strategy is that countries cannot conduct independent negotiations with vaccine companies. Six EU countrieshowever, are participating in Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’s COVAX facility, which is concerned that certain countries are negotiating twice for the same vaccines, the three national diplomats said.
Sarah Owermohle contributed to the reporting.