Poland has unilaterally backed out of its contractual obligations to purchase the BioNTech/Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on Tuesday, citing the oversupply and financial strains caused by the influx of millions of refugees arriving before the Fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Speaking on the All News channel TVN24Niedzielski said the government in Warsaw informed the European Commission and the vaccine suppliers at the end of last week that they were relying on one Force majeure Clause in the procurement contract and would refuse to pay for or take any more cans.
Niedzielski explained that the improving pandemic situation means fewer vaccines are needed. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian refugee crisis had strained public finances.
He added that the government has tried to find a compromise by requiring deliveries to be staggered over a 10-year period, but “we have encountered a complete lack of flexibility on the part of producers.”
Niedzielski admitted the move had put the government in a legal dispute with Pfizer – the EU’s main supplier of coronavirus vaccines in partnership with Germany’s BioNTech. Talks with other companies will start soon, the minister said, adding he hopes they will show more flexibility.
The Commission has negotiated supply agreements with major vaccine manufacturers on behalf of EU member countries and has signed joint procurement agreements with Moderna, Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca, among others.
“Member States are bound by contractual obligations, but the Commission understands Poland’s difficult situation,” said Commission spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker. He added that EU authorities would work to facilitate discussions and find a “pragmatic solution”.
BioNTech and Pfizer declined to comment, saying only that they have an agreement with the European Commission to supply their COVID-19 vaccine to EU member states.
Last month Poland was one of 11 countries asking the commission to set up an EU fund to offset healthcare costs for Ukrainians fleeing Russian invasion. Poland has received and hosted by far the most Ukrainians of any EU member country Almost 3 million refugees. Poland’s support of its neighbor Ukraine has won him praise across the bloc, but it wasn’t enough to free up EU funds that were being held up over rule of law concerns.
This story has been updated with comment from the European Commission.
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