Estonia wishes to forgo bulk of 1.3 million on-order Pfizer Covid doses

Doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Source: Raigo Pajula/ITK

Estonia is currently in negotiations with the European Commission, with a view to amending an agreement signed with pharmaceuticals firm Pfizer, one of the major producers of Covid vaccines

The agreement in its current form would see another 1.3 million doses of Pfizer Covid vaccines reach Estonia.

While the intention is not to forgo the entire consignment, the Ministry of Social Affairs told ERR, the recommendation is that a significant number will not be taken on.

Heli Laarmann, head of the ministry's department of public health, told ERR that the negotiations with the commission are ongoing, adding that deliveries of vaccine doses have halted while this is the case.

"It is still too soon to talk about outcomes. Deliveries have been suspended for the duration of the negotiations," Laarmann said.

Auditor General Janar Holm told ERR earlier this week that while the benefit of hindsight should not be used in being critical over the number of vaccines ordered and purchased, in future, these parameters should certainly be reviewed and excesses removed.

Holm said: "Preparing for a crisis is sensible. Saying that [vaccines] remain and are going to waste, is speaking with the wisdom of hindsight /.../ The question now is how to minimize losses. Naturally, contractual obligations to the business have been undertaken," adding that a reduction in cost even down to the level of each and everyeuro is reasonable, in the current economic situation.

Laarmann said that contract length, number of doses ordered and their price are all on the table at the negotiations.

The contract as noted was for 1.3 million Pfizer Covid vaccine doses, a volume not required in Estonia now.

Since this contract was part of the joint EU vaccine procurement program, the negotiations have to be at European Commission level.

Laarmann added that the talks were not easy. "What is clear is that it is not in the manufacturer's interest to forgo the entire contractual volume," she said, adding the information on what the 1.3 million doses cost the state is confidential.

Retaining at least a portion of the order was sensible, she added, bearing in mind new and more virulent Covid strains can always emerge, while the contract signed also gives scope for access to new doses tailored to new varieties of Covid.

As reported by ERR News, the shelf life of more than 700,000 coronavirus vaccines in Estonia will expire this spring, meaning these will have to be written off, at an estimated cost to state coffers of around €9 million to €10 million.

Since the start of the pandemic, Estonia undertook to purchase 6.8 million Covid vaccine doses, costing around €97 million.

Pfizer's supply made up around two-thirds of the total, at 4.4 million, with AstraZeneca doses numbering a further 1.3 million, and Moderna's totaling 735,000 doses.

Of this total, 5.4 million doses have been sent, and 4.6 million doses have arrived in-country. The difference is made up of those stored in a central EU warehouse outside of Estonia, plus the 522,800 doses donated by Estonia to other countries.

Close to €71 million has been paid to the three manufacturers to date.

2.1 million doses have been administered in Estonia to date, while 770,000 were declared either expired (around 700,000) or spoiled – the latter component primarily comprises the 68,000 doses declared spoiled after a Health Board cold storage facility fault in mid-summer 2021.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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