Germany, the Birthplace of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 Vaccine, Now Wants to Cancel its Vaccine Deal

“Too many doses, billions in costs – the government [of Germany] wants to cancel the vaccine deal.”

When the Pfizer-BioNtech’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (a term that will be used rather loosely through the course of this article) hit the market, in December 2020, it was met with a mixture of relief, excitement, trepidation (among those who didn’t want to take it) and pride in Germany, the country where it was developed. In some quarters it was treated as a literal godsend, including on the magazine cover of the December 23, 2020 edition of the German weekly Stern, whose main title read, “Vaccination: An Act of Charity”:

Much has changed since then. COVID-19 vaccine mandates and passports have come and, in most cases, gone (at least for now). Tens of millions of unvaccinated people in so-called liberal democracies have been demonized, systematically discriminated against and deprived of access to basic government services, public buildings and even the ability to travel or work.

As IM Doc noted in the comments section of KLG’s fine essay, The Ethics of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates: Where Do We Stand and Where Should We Go Regarding Social and Biomedical Responses to Pandemic, the mandates for these experimental drugs “went against the very essence of two of the most important statements of our ethical code as a civilization – The Nuremberg Code and the Helsinki Declarations. More importantly, they were a slap to the face of one of the guiding principles of medical ethics since Hippocrates – that of patient autonomy.” All for the sake of vaccines that are not nearly as safe or as effective as originally claimed.

As I said, things have changed. Even in Germany, a country that came closer than most to enacting a universal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Pfizer-BioNtech’s scientific godsend has become a hugely expensive burden.

“Too many doses, billions in costs – the government wants to cancel the vaccine deal.”

So reads the headline of an article published by Die Welt on Jan. 31, 2022. According to the article, there are currently more than 150 million surplus vials in the government’s central warehouse — and no end in sight to the deliveries. The government now wants to cancel or reduce the additional orders made through the EU Commission for 2023 and 2024. Germany’s Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach — who just a few months ago proposed taking Germany’s vaccine passport restrictions to a whole new level — is taking flak as allegations mount that he reordered a huge new batch of the vaccines despite slumping demand for the COVID-19 boosters.

More information seeped out earlier this week, thanks to a freedom of information act request from the right-wing populist political party Alternative for Germany (AfD). According to another piece in Die Welt, Germany’s government was already sitting on stockpiles of over 30 million unused vaccine doses, and is now apparently on the hook for an additional 375 million of the Pfizer BioNtech COV-19 vaccine for the next two years — enough to vaccinate the entire population four times over and still have stock left over [machine translated]:

There is a surplus of around 32 million vaccine doses in the federal central warehouse. The federal government is also obliged to purchase around 375 million doses of the Corona vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer. But what happens to the surplus vaccine doses?

Germany has committed to buy around 375 million doses of Corona vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer. This emerged from a response by the federal government to a request from the AfD parliamentary group, which the Bundestag published on Tuesday. Accordingly, as of November 30, 2022, the Federal Republic was contractually obliged to purchase around 283 million doses. In addition, there is a purchase obligation “for a further” 92.4 million. The government did not provide any information about the price per dose. This is subject to contractual confidentiality and may not be made public.

Both Pfizer BioNtech and the European Commission, which negotiated the EU’s bulk purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, have agreed to keep schtum about the price of the vaccines, as well as a whole host of other details enclosed within the vaccine contracts. The abject lack of transparency around the Commission’s vaccine negotiations is now the subject of an investigation by Europe’s Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).

That said, credible estimates have surfaced that place the price per shot at around €20. According to sections of the vaccine contracts seen by the Financial Times, the price for the vaccines in the EU’s biggest vaccine contract, for up to 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech jab, signed in May 2021, was €19.50 a pop — a 26% markup on the initial price (€15.50) paid in late December 2020. From that price, one can extrapolate that Germany’s federal government will have paid around €7-7.5 billion for the additional 375 million vaccines it ordered last year.

Now, back to the second Die Welt piece:

According to the Federal Ministry of Health’s vaccination dashboard, a total of around 163 million doses of vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer were delivered by the end of last year, as well as around 60 million doses from other manufacturers such as Moderna. According to the data, more than 85% of the almost 223 million doses delivered have been administered so far. But there are still about 32 million doses left over. According to the vaccination dashboard, 7,000 people are currently being vaccinated per day.

At that rate, it will take roughly 162 years to use up all of the remaining and soon-to-arrive vaccines. According to the US FDA, the shelf-life of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccines is 6-9 months, when stored at a temperature of -90 to -60 degrees Celsius.

This may partly explain why Germany’s government is so desperate to get China to approve Pfizer-BioNtech’s mRNA COVID vaccines for its gargantuan population as it abandons its “zero” COVID lockdown policies. This was one of the issues German Chancellor Olaf Scholz discussed with his Chinese counterparts during a visit to China in November. Among the coterie of German business leaders accompanying Scholz on the trip was BioNTech chief Uğur Şahin. From Politico:

Scholz agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping and outgoing Prime Minister Li Keqiang that the countries will work more closely in the fight against the coronavirus, he said.

“This also includes an approval of the BioNTech vaccine for expats in China,” he said during a press conference in Beijing.

The chancellor did not specify if he was referring to German expats only, or all expats in the country. But one influential financial news outlet, Caixin, reported that the BioNTech vaccine would only be available to “German expats” in China.

But down the line, Scholz made clear he hoped this would be a “first step” toward the wider use of the vaccine, through the general approval of the shot in China.

“Closer cooperation with the EU medicines agency [the European Medicines Agency] would pave the way here,” he added, suggesting that BioNTech’s marketing authorization application is still pending.

The vaccines will indeed only be available to German expats living in China, according to a Reuters article from yesterday (Jan 5). In what looks like a quid pro quo, the German health ministry in early December authorized the importation of China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine for administration to Chinese nationals living in Germany, despite the fact the European Union’s drugs regulating agency is yet to give the shot the go-ahead.

Public Funds Come Full Circle

One bizarre aspect of the German federal government’s complaints about the growing mountains of surplus Pfizer-BioNtech vaccines is that Germany’s federal government was an important seed investor in BioNtech. Without public funds and support, the biotech firm may never have got off the ground, and probably would not have survived as long as it did without selling a single product…

Read the full article on Naked Capitalism

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