Poland has informed the European Commission and the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer that it will no longer accept nor pay for any more COVID-19 vaccines for now, Poland’s health minister said Tuesday.
The decision to stop taking vaccine doses will set up a legal battle under a supply contract the European Union has negotiated with vaccine manufacturers.
Poland and other EU member nations have been paying for and receiving vaccine doses under agreements between the European Union and vaccine manufacturers such as Pfizer and Moderna. Pfizer is the chief supplier for Poland, Reuters reported.
Currently, the country has 25 million COVID-19 vaccines in storage and another 67 million to 70 million doses on order, according to the private news channel TVN24. But compared to other European nations, Poland has reported a below-average vaccine uptake. Just 59% of the country’s 38 million people have been fully vaccinated, and only 31% have received a booster shot, below the EU average of 72.5% and nearly 53%, respectively.
As such, Poland’s health minister said the country has a surplus of vaccine doses and does not intend to pay for any more.
“We asked both the European Commission and the main vaccine producing companies … to spread these deliveries over 10 years and — most importantly — to pay when we receive vaccines,” health minister Adam Niedzielski reportedly told TVN24 in an interview.
“Unfortunately, here we faced complete inflexibility on the part of the producers,” he said. “There was no way that we could seriously change the terms of this contract, and this contract was signed in a crisis situation.”
Niedzielski explained that Poland has triggered a clause in its legal agreement with the European Commission and Pfizer to stop taking additional vaccine doses.
“At the end of last week, we used the force majeure clause and informed both the European Commission and the main vaccine producer that we are refusing to take these vaccines at the moment and we are also refusing to pay,” he said.
“Indeed, the consequence of this will be a legal conflict, which is already taking place,” he added.
According to the health minister, Poland cannot directly terminate the contract with Pfizer because the agreement is between Pfizer and the European Commission.
Pfizer’s contract to supply vaccine doses to Poland alone is worth more than 6 billion zlotys ($1.4 billion), with more than 2 billion zlotys spent on vaccines for 2022.
In a comment to Reuters, Pfizer said its contract to supply vaccines to EU member states is with the European Commission.
“Our discussions with Governments and the details of vaccine deliveries are confidential,” Pfizer said.
European Commission health spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker said Tuesday that member states were bound by contractual obligations to continue purchasing vaccines, but that the commission understands Poland’s “difficult position.”
“We continue to facilitate discussion between the Polish government and the company in order to find a pragmatic solution to this specific situation the country is confronted with,” he said.
Niedzielski said that Poland and 10 other EU countries have petitioned the EU to loosen regulations on COVID-19 vaccine contracts to allow for flexibility to spend money on health care for refugees from the war between Russia and Ukraine.
“We, in particular, and I am talking about Poland here, currently have financial pressures related to the influx of refugees, so we also feel that, on the EU scale, we have a certain right to expect special instruments that will give us … greater flexibility in the contracts,” Niedzielski said.