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25th Feb 2021

Coronavirus

EU admits redaction error in AstraZeneca contract

  • The EU Commission published online a redacted version of AstraZeneca contract (Photo: Cheshire East Council)

The European Commission admitted on Tuesday (2 February) it made a mistake by publishing a redacted version of the AstraZeneca vaccine contract that could, in fact, be easily deciphered.

"It was certainly not our intention for this to happen," EU commission spokesperson Eric Mamer told reporters.

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The European Commission last week published online a heavily-redacted version of the contract, as part of a transparency drive, and following criticism of potential 'best-effort' get-out clauses for the UK/Swedish pharmaceutical manufacturer.

"In order for those contracts to be concluded with the pharmaceutical companies, it was agreed that certain contracts would remain confidential," Mamer said.

But online sleuths plus journalists at German magazine Der Spiegel realised that large parts of the redacted content could be revealed simply by using the bookmark tool in Adobe Acrobat's Reader.

Those disclosures revealed that the contract was worth €870m - which includes all direct and indirect costs.

It also gave a breakdown of what is covered under the "costs of goods".

Other vital information, like the estimated delivery schedule, however, remained blacked out.

"Well, clearly we published a version with sections that were redacted and through technical means that were not our means, certain parts that were redacted were visible," Mamer admitted.

Mamer could not categorically confirm if AstraZeneca had since contacted the European Commission following the mistake.

"Not as far as I am aware," he said, when asked.

The EU Commission and the firm signed the contract in August last year, allowing member states to purchase some 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The commission says it is pushing for greater transparency, but remains bound by confidentiality clauses imposed by the firms.

"We will continue to try to publish the other contracts that we have," he said.

A redacted version of CureVac contract has also been published.

But information such as the commission's down payment and number of doses to be delivered each quarter were not disclosed.

"We are not the only ones in a position to decide on this and I think this is simply a legal fact," said Mamer, when pressed on why the number of vaccine doses to be delivered per quarter in each contract could not be revealed.

He did note that overall some 18 million doses were received in January, another 33 million are expected this month, and some 55 million in March.

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