It’s a brouhaha that won’t go away: Did Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., negotiate a vaccine contract with the European Commission (EC) by way of text messages?
While it may be tempting for the company to respond W/E, LOL or MYOB, Pfizer is still trying to explain its way out of the mess the old-fashioned way.
Monday, during a European Parliament hearing in Germany, a Pfizer executive who participated in the contract negotiations emphatically denied the charge.
“As to whether a contract negotiation such as this contract which you referred to, 1.8 billion doses, was negotiated through an SMS, I can categorically tell you that would not be the case,” Janine Small, Pfizer’s president of international developed markets, told a special committee investigating how the deal went down.
Small, who said she had been involved in all vaccine negotiations between Pfizer and the EU since 2020, added that talks typically are too detailed and involve too many parties to be executed through text messages.
Small was sitting in for Bourla, who was originally scheduled to testify but backed out in late September.
The investigation was launched after an audit showed that EC President Ursula von der Leyen was directly involved in preliminary negotiations for a contract the bloc eventually signed in May of 2021.
In previous vaccine deals—including two others with Pfizer—a joint negotiating team that included representatives of the commission and member states conducted the exploratory talks.
The deal was for up to 1.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to be supplied through 2022 and 2023 and was the largest executed by Europe since the start of the pandemic.
In April of 2021, in an interview with The New York Times, von der Leyen admitted that she had exchanged texts with Bourla for a month while the negotiations were underway. The alleged talks came as von der Leyen was under intense pressure in Europe, as vaccinations had lagged those in the U.S. and the U.K. after the EU’s then-biggest supplier, AstraZeneca, unveiled production problems.
In September of last year, Europe’s ombudsman Emily O’Reilly opened a probe after the EC refused to grant public access to the texts.