Poland takes its COVID-19 vaccine fight to Pfizer's shareholders, urging the company to be a good corporate citizen

When Pfizer and BioNTech struck a massive deal to supply Europe with up to 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 vaccine, government officials lauded the deal. But now that vaccine demand has cratered and governments have too many doses, many officials are singing a different tune.

In an open letter addressed to Pfizer's shareholders, Poland’s health minister Adam Niedzielski called on the company to take “active corporate social responsibility” and lift financial burdens imposed by the 2021 agreement.

Amid low vaccine demand in recent months, governments across Europe have been working to renegotiate the 2021 supply deal. Poland and other countries have been outspoken critics of the process.

In new details recently reported by the Financial Times, the sides are deliberating half payments for unneeded—and undelivered—doses.

That won’t do for Poland. The charges would be “literally for unmanufactured doses that have not yet been and will never be produced and thus will not cost Pfizer a penny,” Niedzielski wrote.

And Pfizer is still planning to deliver some doses under the deal, Niedzielski wrote. This would be “utterly pointless” as most of them would be destroyed thanks to a lack of demand and limited shelf life.

Pfizer and BioNTech inked their large EU supply deal in May of 2021, pledging an initial 900 million doses to be delivered in 2022 and 2023. Europe also had an option to order 900 million more doses.

The sheer size of the deal, and how it came to be, was investigated by Europe’s Court of Auditors last year.

“I am extremely sorry to conclude that despite my best will to find a compromise, Pfizer is not ready to show satisfactory level of flexibility and make any realistic proposals addressing the completely changed situation in Europe,” Niedzielski wrote. “I am sorry to conclude that the company which we all considered for a long time as part of the solution to healthcare challenges is now becoming part of the problem.”

A Pfizer spokesperson said the company couldn't comment on the letter. The ongoing negotiations have been conducted in good faith "by all parties," the company's representative said.

“We are committed to finding pragmatic solutions to address public health and the evolving pandemic needs, while ensuring Pfizer and BioNTech continue to meet all of their contractual obligations regarding the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to the European Union,” Pfizer's spokesperson told Fierce Pharma over email.