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The contract will allow for the purchase of an initial 900 million shots and of a serum adapted to the virus' variants. Countries will also be able to resell or donate doses outside of the EU, through COVAX.
The European Commission said on Thursday that it signed a third contract with pharmaceutical companies BioNTech and Pfizer for an additional 1.8 billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
The contract will allow for the purchase of 900 million doses on behalf of all European Union member states, between the end of 2021 and 2023, as well as for the purchase of a serum adapted to the virus' variants, with an option to purchase an extra 900 million shots.
Under the agreement, the vaccine must be produced in the EU, while essential components should also be sourced from the bloc.
The agreement also allows for the "possibility for Member States to resell or donate doses to countries in need outside the EU or through the COVAX Facility."
"With our signature, the new contract is now in force, which is good news for our long term fight to protect European citizens against the virus and its variants," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
"As the pace of vaccination increases every day and work on effective therapeutics intensifies, we can look ahead with more optimism and confidence," said Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
The commission decided to sign the deal "based on a sound scientific assessment, the technology used, the companies' experience in vaccine development and their production capacity to supply the whole of the EU."
The signature on the agreement comes less than a week before a court hearing in Brussels over AstraZeneca's alleged failure to deliver the promised number of doses of its own vaccine.
AstraZeneca's contract with the EU saw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among member countries, with an option for a further 100 million. The doses were expected to be delivered throughout 2021 but only 30 million were sent during the first quarter. According to the Commission, the company is set to provide only 70 million doses in the second quarter, as opposed to the 180 million it had promised.
In contrast with the nature of its relationship with AstraZeneca, the Commission touted "well-established cooperation" with BioNTech and Pfizer, guaranteeing "timely deliveries of the doses."
Kyriakides said she is prioritizing vaccine technologies "that have proven their worth, like mRNA vaccines." The active ingredient in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is messenger RNA, which contains the instructions for human cells to construct a piece of the coronavirus called the spike protein.
The European Union was heavily criticized for what some called a slow start to its vaccination drive. However, von der Leyen called the bloc's vaccination drive a success.
"Yes, there was a lot of criticism of the European Union at the beginning," she said in comments broadcast by WDR German public television on Thursday. "What counts in the end is that the European Union reliably delivers vaccines to its 450 million citizens day by day, and that we can say we got there together as a community. Measured by that, our European vaccination campaign is a success.''
lc/aw (Reuters, AP)