Corona pandemic: 13.1 billion euros for vaccine doses


Status: 01/26/2023 5:00 p.m

The previous corona vaccine orders have cost 13.1 billion euros, the federal government has acknowledged this for the first time. BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna had increased prices by around 50 percent in 2021, according to documents that NDR, WDR and SZ could see.

By Markus Grill, NDR/WDR

In 2020, the EU Commission negotiated with various pharmaceutical companies about the delivery of corona vaccines. The contracts that were eventually signed are classified and only fragmentary prices of the vaccines have leaked out to date.

NDR, WDR and “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (SZ) is now the first time that the Federal Government has a detailed order overview for the individual vaccines, which shows the exact prices, quantities and order dates. The Ministry of Health announced for the first time on request that vaccine doses worth 13.1 billion euros had been ordered so far.

Massive price differences

The cheapest was the company AstraZeneca, which developed its vaccine together with the University of Oxford – although the university had insisted that the vaccine be sold at cost price. Here, the federal government ordered more than 56 million doses on August 27, 2020 at a price of around 2.30 euros per vaccine dose.

The US group Moderna demanded the most, for which almost 30 euros per vaccination dose was set for an order in September 2021. The vaccine from Johnson & Johnson costs around seven euros, while Novavax costs around 18.20 euros per dose.

Prices increased during the pandemic

The price increases of the companies Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna in the middle of the pandemic are striking. In December 2020, Germany ordered almost 39 million vaccine doses from BioNTech at a price of around 15.50 euros per dose. Nine months later, when the government ordered another 168 million vaccine doses, the average single dose was already around 23.20 euros – an increase of around 50 percent.

The pricing policy of the US company Moderna was similar. On December 23, 2020, the Federal Republic ordered almost 15 million vaccine doses at a price of around 19.50 euros per dose. Three months later, the average cost was already around 29.70 euros per dose – also a price increase of around 50 percent. Moderna did not respond to questions about pricing, BioNTech simply said when asked, “Do not rely on information that cannot be verified (we cannot verify pricing)”.

Billions in profits at BioNTech

BioNTech boss Ugur Sahin explained in 2020 that “no company” will “earn a fortune” with the corona vaccine. The following year, however, BioNTech made a net profit of €10.3 billion and in the first nine months of 2022 it was another €7.1 billion.

From the pharmaceutical industry it is said that the Mainz-based company spent more money than it earned researching new drugs for years. Now that’s the reward. And company boss Sahin wants to put this reward into research into new medicines. Sahin is not concerned with personal profits. The price increases are also due to the fact that Germany and the EU have written expensive conditions into the contracts. You just had to secure that with a higher price.

Return funds research

Han Steutel, President of the Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (vfa), says that he cannot say anything about the prices because they are secret and he does not know them, but “the returns in the pharmaceutical industry must be high because the risk in research and development is extremely high”. If yields aren’t high, “no one would buy these stocks.”

Steutel points out that the price of a vaccine or drug is not only based on the manufacturing costs and research and development costs, but also on the “value” the drug has “for society”. “Look, we’ve got our normal life back. And the price we’re paying for it is actually very small.”

Why the price increases?

The chairman of the Drug Commission of the German Medical Association, Wolf-Dieter Ludwig, does not consider the prices that Moderna or BioNTech charged for their vaccines to be fundamentally offensive because they are quite comparable to influenza vaccines, for example. But what bothers Ludwig are the price increases in the middle of the pandemic. “I actually think that’s dubious, given the economic sales, you could have stayed at the old price.” However, it was the case that “we needed the vaccines” and “the pharmaceutical companies were able to push through these prices”.

On the other hand, there is clear criticism of the price increases from the Bundestag. The doctor and MP Stephan Pilsinger (CSU) says: “If that’s true, then I think it’s completely unjustified. The federal government shouldn’t have gotten involved in such deals.”

Research reveals price developments for corona vaccines for the first time

Ann-Brit Bakkenbüll/Markus Grill, NDR, daily news at 5:00 p.m., January 26, 2023

Details remain secret

The exact prices for the vaccines are now in the so-called secret protection agency of the German Bundestag. If you add up the orders until December 2021, the end of Health Minister Jens Spahn’s term of office, you get a value of 10.05 billion euros. During Karl Lauterbach’s term of office up to the present day, this value has also risen again. “The total value of the orders amounts to approximately 13.1 billion euros gross,” the ministry said NDR, WDR and SZ confirmed.

Even the chairman of the budget committee, the CDU politician and former head of the chancellery, Helge Braun, admits that he “neither knows the individual dose prices of the various vaccines nor the other contractual clauses.” CSU health politician Pilsinger demands that the federal government “immediately and immediately put all the figures on the table in full”.

demands for transparency

Rolf Blaga, head of the Medicine and Health working group of the non-governmental organization Transparency International, also criticizes the secrecy surrounding the vaccine contracts. “The public must be able to trust that taxpayers’ money is not being wasted.” At least the Court of Auditors must have full access to the documents in order to examine them, according to Blaga. Various health and budget politicians from the SPD and the Greens did not want to comment on the costs of the vaccines and the question of transparency.

Hundreds of millions of doses ordered

In addition to the pricing policy and the lack of transparency in the contracts, the quantity of vaccines ordered is also increasingly being criticized. Across from NDR, WDR and SZ, the ministry is now announcing that the federal government has committed itself to purchasing a total of 672 million vaccine doses since the beginning of the pandemic. 556 million cans of it were ordered during Spahn’s tenure alone.

Converted, this means that there are a good eight doses of vaccine available for every inhabitant in Germany, from infants to the elderly. Even Wolf Dieter Ludwig from the Medicines Commission, who is deeply convinced of the benefits of the corona vaccination, considers this amount “far too high”. Eight vaccinations per person will “certainly not be needed”.

Vaccines worth billions before destruction

Helge Braun, chairman of the budget committee, assumes that Germany still has purchase commitments for corona vaccines worth two billion euros for the current year 2023. “That is far too much in the foreseeable future, so that the destruction of a large part of the delivery would have to be expected,” says Braun. “In my view, this is not only terrible in terms of costs, but also unethical because of the consumption of resources.”

The vast majority of vaccines were ordered by Health Minister Jens Spahn during the grand coalition. Today’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, like other EU health ministers, has been trying for a few weeks to significantly reduce orders from manufacturers – but so far this has only been possible for 11.3 million doses. But couldn’t the vaccines simply be donated to poorer countries? That’s why you try “of course”, according to the Ministry of Health. “However, the global supply of Covid-19 vaccine doses currently far exceeds demand.”

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