EU signs new deal with Pfizer-BioNTech, Hungary opts out

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 file photo, a sign is pasted into an upper window at Pfizer manufacturing center in Puurs, Belgium. The European Union cemented its support for Pfizer-BioNTech and its novel COVID-19 vaccine technology, Saturday, May 8, 2021 by agreeing to a massive contract extension for a potential 1.8 billion doses through 2023. The new contract, which has the backing of the EU member states, will entail not only the production of the vaccines, but also making sure that all the essential components should be sourced from the EU. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

BRUSSELS – The European Union's executive arm on Thursday finalized a third vaccine contract with Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023 for an additional 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 shot to share between the bloc's countries except for Hungary, which opted out of the deal.

The European commission said the contract, which was agreed on behalf of all 27 EU countries earlier this month, will allow the buying of 900 million doses of the current shots and of a serum adapted to the virus' variants, with an option to purchase an extra 900 million shots.

Although EU nations agreed to keep on with their strategy of buying doses collectively, Hungary decided not to be part of the new purchase agreement that followed previous agreements with the two companies for 600 million shots.

“Therefore it will not be covered by the contract," EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said following a meeting with health ministers from the region. “All other member states will have the opportunity to purchase vaccines under the new contract."

Hungary is using vaccines from China and Russia in addition to Western jabs. About 40% of Hungary's population has received at least one dose of vaccine, the second-highest vaccination rate in the EU.

The signature of the new agreement comes less than a week before a court hearing in Brussels pitting the Commission against the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which is accused by the EU of failing to deliver the promised number of doses of its own vaccine.

The Commission said that the deal with Pfizer-BioNTech stipulates that the production of doses must be based in the EU and that essential components are sourced from the region. “From the start of the supply in 2022, the delivery to the EU is guaranteed," the Commission said.

AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU foresaw 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, rather than the 180 million it had promised.