The European Commission’s war of words against pharma company AstraZeneca over COVID-19 vaccines has descended into farce after Brussels accidentally published an unredacted version of a disputed supply contract.
The blunder, reminiscent of the early days of IT two decades ago, saw commercially sensitive details freely published online – and readable by anyone who knows what Adobe Reader’s Bookmarks tab is.
Although the main text of the contract had been heavily redacted in places, nobody thought to check the bookmarks tab had been redacted before dumping the contract online.
A (non-redacted) section of the contract states: “The Receiving Party shall treat all Confidential Information as secret and confidential and shall not use, copy or disclose to any third party any Confidential Information of the Disclosing Party.”
It adds that the Receiving Party (ie, the EU) shall “ensure the protection of confidential information or documents with the same level of protection as its own confidential information or documents and in any case with due diligence.”
The BBC published a summary of EU press officers’ talking points about AstraZeneca, also reporting: “The EU has also demanded the company divert vaccines made at its UK production sites to boost the supply to the EU” and adding that the EU hasn’t yet paid AstraZeneca in full.
The contract itself was published as part of a EU political strategy focused on obtaining vaccine doses at the expense of the UK by applying pressure to AstraZeneca – the bloc is way behind schedule in deliveries because of the way it spread its bets among vaccine makers in its purchasing strategy back in 2020.
EU officials claim that the bloc is legally entitled, under the contract, to take possession of all AstraZeneca vaccine doses being produced on the Continent. Some current production is focused on meeting a contract for the UK placed months before the EU’s.
Bloc leaders have asserted that by fulfilling the UK’s order ahead of theirs AstraZeneca was in breach of its EU contract: hence the EU Commission’s decision to publish the contract, in the hopes of ramping up pressure on the Swedish-headquartered company.
The EU has said it paid €336m for guaranteed orders and is upset the company is delivering elsewhere.
Regardless of the contract’s terms not obviously supporting the EU position, the easily avoidable redaction blunder is unlikely to enhance the EU’s negotiating position.
Relax, there’s no obvious smoking gun here
Redacted details include the fact that the EU will pay AstraZeneca a third of its €336m upfront costs for 400 million doses within 30 days of signing the contract, which was dated 27 August 2020.
EU member states are responsible for paying fill, finish and packaging costs of the vaccines as well as linked costs.
Should the cost of producing the EU’s “initial Europe doses” exceed the €870m set aside for doing so, AstraZeneca is entitled to recharge the excess back to the EU. If the cost is substantially less than that, it appears the pharma firm must reimburse the EU with the difference.
Neither AstraZeneca nor the EU Commission responded to requests for comment, though by the time of publication red-faced EU officials had replaced the PDF file with one that had all of its bookmarks removed. ®