EU’s von der Leyen can’t find text message with Pfizer chief on vaccine agreement letter

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BRUSSELS – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is no longer in possession of the text messages she exchanged with Pfizer chief Albert Bourla to seal a deal on the COVID-19 vaccine, the city said. Commission in a letter published on Wednesday.

In an April 2021 interview, von der Leyen revealed that she exchanged text messages with Bourla for a month as they negotiated a huge vaccine deal.

But in response to a request for public access from a journalist because of the importance of the agreement, the Commission did not share the texts, prompting accusations of maladministration by EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.

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« The Commission can confirm that the search undertaken by the President’s Cabinet for relevant text messages corresponding to the request for access to documents did not yield any results, » EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said in the letter to the Ombudsman, a watchdog of the EU.

In the letter, the Commission argues that text messages do not need to be recorded and stored as they are treated as « short-lived ephemeral documents ». The same exception to the general registration requirement applies to documents containing no material information, the letter said.

A spokesperson for the ombudsman said it planned to release a detailed analysis on the matter in the coming weeks.

The deal, brokered by text and phone calls, according to what von der Leyen herself said in her interview with The New York Times, was the biggest deal ever for COVID-19 vaccines, with the EU pledging to buy 900 million from Pfizer-BioNTech, shots, with an option to buy another 900 million.

When the deal was officially announced in May 2021, the EU had already secured hundreds of millions of vaccines from several drugmakers, including an additional 600 million doses from Pfizer and BioNTech under two previous contracts with the two companies.

The deal was backed by all EU governments but was later challenged by some of them who are now trying to renegotiate or cut supplies from Pfizer and other vaccine makers amid decline in vaccination and increasing risk of wastage. (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Nick Macfie)


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