The EU Commission’s cancellation of nearly 60 million doses of the long-awaited Valneva vaccine is raising suspicions that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is protecting pharmaceutical company Pfizer in the commission’s choice of vaccine purchases.
In July, Von der Leyen had been caught exchanging text messages with Pfizer’s CEO, and despite numerous calls for those messages to be made public, the Commission has not produced them. This latest cancellation reinforces public scepticism over von der Leyen’s intentions.
The Commission leads joint purchasing for member states to facilitate procuring vaccines and has overwhelmingly purchased the mRNA vaccine produced by Pfizer in conjunction with U.S. company BioNTech—buying or reserving 2.4 billion doses, compared with mere millions of other vaccines.
Numerous studies have exposed the adverse effects of the mRMA vaccine, leaving many Europeans, who would otherwise vaccinate, disadvantaged. Release of the Valneva vaccine may have changed their prospects because it uses the decades-old technique of inoculating with an inactivated whole-virus, while nearly all the other vaccines the Commission has purchased use the recently developed mRNA therapy. The exception is the Novavax vaccine, purchased last year, which uses a spike-protein vaccination technique, and the Spanish HIPRA vaccine—secured in a recent deal—which also uses the virus protein.
Though vaccination rates are, overall, high in the EU, the older vaccination method used by Valneva could prove to be more appealing to those who are hesitant to get vaccinated.
Von der Leyen’s intervention to cancel the EU order appears particularly fishy because just this past July, she had reduced the order from 60 million to 1.25 million doses—on the grounds of the EU’s high vaccination rates.
At the time, Valneva CEO Thomas Lingelbach criticised the small quantity.
“We feel the order volume does not reflect the interest we see from European citizens. Despite this, we have decided to enter into this amendment to make our vaccine available to the Europeans who have been waiting for it. While the pandemic has been declining, the latest COVID-19 wave in Europe clearly underlines the need for alternative vaccines,” he said in a statement.
The EU showed exceptional caution in approving the Valneva vaccine. It was approved for use in the EU in June 2022, but only after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had twice asked for additional information following the company’s submission of its clinical trial findings.
It has made some wonder if the Commission, particularly Von der Leyen, is not intentionally side-lining vaccines that could compete with Pfizer products.