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Comirnaty vaccine. Photo credit: JFCfilms

Is Pfizer immune to competition?

With the dominant position the EU has granted to Pfizer, in particular by ruling out the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, it is once again proving that its rules are of variable geometry because European treaties outlaw monopolies.

Published: April 28, 2021, 5:54 am

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    The EU could soon sign a contract with Pfizer for 1,8 billion additional doses of its anti-Covid vaccine. With deliveries possible until 2023, such a quantity should be enough to vaccinate the entire European population several times over. This is a commercial triumph for the American pharma giant, which has now asserted its supremacy over the European market, as well as for the German laboratory BioNTech which co-produced the famous vaccine Comirnaty.

    For AstraZeneca, it’s the descent into hell. After renaming its vaccine in an attempt to restore its image to escape controversy, the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical group is being sued by Brussels for its multiple delivery delays with a lawsuit filed on April 23 by the Commission with the approval of the Member States.

    Since the signing of the contract, only a third of the promised doses have been delivered, procrastination that let Pfizer take a head start. But the American laboratory has not acted exemplary in this area either. In February, the EU was still awaiting a third of the doses promised by Pfizer, reported Reuters on the basis of “several sources within the European Union”.

    The Commission is incidentally headed by an ex-minister of Angela Merkel. As for the Russian vaccine, which has cost the Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič his post for having ordered it, its authorization within the EU has been postponed indefinitely.

    According to the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Baune, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) should not rule before the end of June on the approval of Sputnik V. That is more than four months after the filing of the Russian application with the relevant European health authorities.

    This deadline contrasts sharply with that of Pfizer/BioNtech, approved in less than four weeks at the end of December.

    “We will absolutely not need Sputnik V“, said Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Foreign Trade and Vaccination. In short, a boon for the American-German vaccine.

    This situation is all the more surprising given that the European Commission usually does not tolerate monopolies. Moreover, several treaties ban such schemes. The example of the takeover by the French Alstom of the Canadian Bombardier in the summer of 2020 is an illustration of this. Brussels had demanded that the two manufacturers sell production sites to competition. When it comes to respect for treaties, the Commission has been uncompromising, at least until recently.

    Moreover, media discretion seems to obscure the deaths that have occurred after the injections of Pfizer/BioNtech. Instead, the suspected cases of thrombosis after an injection of AstraZeneca made headlines, so much so that public confidence in this vaccine has totally collapsed. As a result, Pfizer’s ratings went up even though the British-Swedish vaccine could prove to be much less dangerous than its American-German competitor. In any case, this is what has emerged from the figures of Hungarian authorities.

    Hungary was the first European state to order the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, and Budapest has drawn up a comparison of the different vaccines administered on its territory between December 26, 2020 and April 20, 2021.

    For each 100 000 injections, thirty-two deaths have been recorded for the Comirnaty (Pfizer) against seven for AstraZeneca.

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