Estonia rejects Pfizer's covid drug offer, awaits joint EU procurement

Tablets. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonia has rejected offers by pharmaceutical company Pfizer for its new coronavirus drug Paxlovid and is waiting for the outcome of the EU's next joint procurement. However, negotiations are stalling.

Paxlovid was green-lit by the European Medicines Agency in January and Estonia has said it wants enough doses to treat 10,000 people.

The country has joined the joint procurement deal proposed by the European Union and rejected an individual offer from the manufacturer.

But negotiations are not moving quickly.

The main obstacle is that Pfizer does not really want to negotiate, Estonian Health Insurance Fund spokesperson Sander Rajamäe said. The company wants to set a higher price for its products.

"What we know now is that the pharmaceutical company has taken up the tactic of concluding a separate agreement with each country in order not to make a joint procurement with the European Union," Rajamäe said. "The reason they wish to do it this way is because it gives the manufacturer the opportunity to set the price in a more appropriate way [for itself]."

However, there have already been reports in the media that some EU member states have signed agreements, such as Italy, France, Germany and Belgium.

This is not forbidden and countries can make deals as soon as the European Medicines Agency grants a marketing authorization, Deputy Head of the European Commission Representation in Estonia Hanna Hinrikus said.

"It is essentially up to the member states to decide whether to conclude a bilateral agreement directly with a pharmaceutical company or to participate in the European Union joint procurement, which will likely have more favorable terms," she said.

Rajamäe said Estonia plans to stick with the joint procurement because it is believed the price will be lower.

Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) hopes the joint bid will bear fruit but said if it does not, then the government will rethink its plan.

It is not only the medicine that must be considered but its transportation to Estonia and the quantities it can be purchased in. Kiik said that the most serious phase of the pandemic is likely over also needs to be kept in mind.

"In this light, there is also a great risk of acquiring very expensive medicines that will not be needed later," he said, adding other medicines under development should also be considered.

Issues still up for debate include that the drug has still been used by relatively few people in the world and how the pill should be distributed when it reaches Estonia.

"Vaccination is still the safest and most effective way to protect your life and health," Kiik said.

But Estonian doctors want the medicines to arrive as soon as possible.

"People are still getting sick and they would help now," said Mait Altmets, head of the Infection Control Service of the North Estonian Medical Center (PERH).


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Editor: Helen Wright

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