Pfizer CEO's texts with European Commission chief trigger new NYT lawsuit

Twenty-two months after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen admitted to The New York Times that she negotiated a COVID-19 vaccine deal with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., through text messages, the newspaper is suing the commission over its refusal to make the texts public.

While the lawsuit was filed on Jan. 25 and listed on the European Court of Justice’s public website Monday, Feb. 13, none of the documents related to the case are available to the public. Two people familiar with the suit confirmed it to Politico.

The NYT argues that the EC is required legally to turn over the messages. Last year—in response to a public information request—the commission wrote that text messages do not need to be stored because they are treated as “short-lived ephemeral documents.”

In addition, last June, von der Leyen said she no longer had the messages in her possession. Shortly afterward, Europe’s ombudsman Emily O’Reilly opened a probe.

Between September and December 2022, Bourla twice declined to testify before European Parliament. In October, Pfizer’s president of international development markets Janine Small appeared at a Parliament hearing, saying that talks are too detailed and involve too many parties to be executed through text messages.

The round of negotiations in question came two years ago, as Europe was facing a COVID vaccine crisis. Its primary supplier, AstraZeneca, was having difficulty manufacturing shots and convincing the public they were safe.

The EC turned to Pfizer and struck a deal to purchase 900 million vaccines, with an option to buy another 900 million. It was the largest contract the EU signed during the pandemic, coming to 35 billion euros ($37.6 billion) if fully realized.