Nation/World

Europe is paying less than U.S. for many coronavirus vaccines

The European Union is paying less money than the United States for a range of coronavirus vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation currently being rolled out across the country, according to a Washington Post comparison of the breakdowns.

The costs to the EU had been confidential until a Belgian official tweeted - and then deleted - a list late Thursday.

Comparing that list to calculations by Bernstein Research, an analysis and investment firm, it appears the 27-nation union has a 24% discount on the Pfizer vaccine compared to the United States, paying $14.76 per dose compared to $19.50 in the United States. Some of that difference may reflect that the EU subsidized that vaccine’s development.

The bloc will pay 45% less than the United States for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine currently under development. But it will pay 20% more than the United States for the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to be approved for U.S. use on Friday.

The per-dose prices of the vaccines are lower than most brand-name drugs, but the hundreds of millions of doses required to vaccinate entire populations will drive up costs significantly for individual countries. Disparities between the higher prices in the United States and Europe in overall drug prices have long driven outrage in Congress.

The EU list also underlines why policymakers are hoping AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be effective and will win approval - at $2.19 a dose, it is almost one-seventh the price of the Pfizer vaccine currently being administered in the United States and Britain. Most vaccines currently under development require two doses, although Johnson & Johnson’s - $10 in the United States and just a bit more in Europe - is a single shot.

The EU has been secretive about the prices it has negotiated for its 2 billion doses of various vaccines, drawing fire from transparency advocates who say the public and policymakers have a right to know how much they are paying for the inoculations. As in the United States, European countries generally plan to make the vaccines free for their citizens.

The Belgian official, State Secretary for Budget Eva De Bleeker, posted the table of Belgium’s costs for vaccines on Twitter on Thursday, then deleted it shortly afterward. Because the European Union has negotiated collectively for vaccines on behalf of its members, the same prices apply across all of its 27 nations.

A spokesman for De Bleeker confirmed the authenticity of the tweet, and said that it came after a Thursday evening discussion in the Belgian Parliament and opposition charges that there was no money to pay for the vaccines in the country’s 2021 budget.

“The communication team posted the tweet to close the discussion,” said Bavo De Mol, the spokesman. “We wanted to be as transparent as possible, but maybe we were a bit too transparent.”

The breach was first reported by HLN, a Belgian newspaper.

The other European vaccine prices were $9.30 for the one under development by Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, an 11% discount on the U.S. cost, and $12.30 for the one under development by CureVac, for which the United States has not signed contracts.

The European Union contributed part of the cost for the development of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Others - including some of the ones that are more expensive in the United States - are part of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S.-government-funded effort to fund vaccine research.

The per-dose prices of the vaccines are lower than most brand-name drugs but the hundreds of millions of doses required to vaccinate entire populations will drive up costs significantly for individual countries. Disparities between the higher prices in the United States and Europe in overall drug prices have long driven outrage in Congress.

A spokesman for the European Commission, which negotiated the contracts for the vaccines on behalf of EU members, declined to comment about the pricing, other than to say disclosure was a breach of confidentiality clauses of the contracts.

Transparency advocates have been pushing for more information about the cost of the vaccines for months, arguing that since public funds are being used, policymakers and the public should know the prices. The EU negotiated as a bloc, but most other countries, including the United States, are negotiating individual contracts with pharmaceutical companies. The confidentiality clauses presumably benefit the manufacturers, since they make it easier to vary the prices from country to country.

The European Medicines Agency is likely to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday, with the vaccine expected to roll out across the European Union the final week of December.

The EU vaccines will be shared equally across the European Union based on each country’s population size.

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Birnbaum reported from Riga, Latvia, and Ariès reported from Brussels. The Washington Post’s Christopher Rowland in Washington contributed to this report.

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