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Eastern European countries ask Commission to reopen vaccine contracts

A group of ten Eastern European countries have petitioned the European Commission to renegotiate coronavirus vaccine contracts, in a letter seen by POLITICO that cites an oversupply of doses and the need to protect state finances.

Contracts should be able to be terminated “if they are no longer needed from a health and epidemiological perspective,” reads one of the letter’s demands. In other cases, it should be possible to reduce the number of doses that are ordered so that they better reflect the demand for shots.

The letter was sent Friday night and is addressed to EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. Poland led the initiative, and the letter was also signed by Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

A number of countries in Eastern Europe had previously raised concerns that existing coronavirus vaccine contracts, signed at the height of the pandemic when the EU was under intense public pressure to procure jabs, have locked them into buying too many doses that are now not needed. The Commission has secured up to 4.2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines, nearly ten times the population of the EU. As of February, 1.3 billion had been delivered.

“Despite signs that the pandemic is subsiding and that satisfactory vaccination levels across the EU have been achieved, the contracts with vaccines manufacturers provide for supply of quantities of vaccines that significantly exceed the Member States’ needs and capacity to absorb them,” reads the letter.

The countries that signed the letter argue that the vaccines risk expiring unused given the problems that vaccine donations have encountered, which is “a waste of public resources that cannot be reasonably explained to the public.”

Efforts made by the Commission to redraw the contracts to better stagger deliveries don’t go far enough, according to the group of Eastern European countries. The countries write that the portions of the contracts that regulate vaccine purchases need to be changed.

The letter also cites the problem of vaccines being delivered close to their expiration date, something first mentioned by the Baltic countries, and asks for a minimum shelf-life requirement.

Other requests include ensuring that vaccines protect against the latest circulating variants, and the possibility that the EU’s Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority buy unused vaccines to create a joint stockpile and also allow for donations to the rest of the world in a more coordinated way.

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