Polish Minister of Health Adam Niedzielski made the announcement Tuesday, April 19, saying that demand for the COVID-19 vaccines has rapidly dwindled.
"At the end of last week, we used the force majeure clause and informed both the European Commission and the main vaccine producer [Pfizer] that we are refusing to take these vaccines at the moment and we are also refusing to pay," he said during an interview with Polish broadcaster TVN24.p
Since the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, Poland and the rest of the European Union (EU) received doses of the vaccines through supply contracts agreed upon by the European Commission and vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna. (Related: Thousands of Moderna COVID "vaccines" recalled in Europe for containing a "foreign body.")
In recent weeks, Poland has seen a significantly lower uptake of COVID-19 vaccines than most other EU member states, and in fact has a surplus of vaccines, part of which the country has already sold or donated to other countries.
Poland has a full vaccination rate of 59 percent, and around 31 percent of the eligible population has received booster vaccines. This is far below the EU average full and booster vaccination rates of 72.5 percent and nearly 53 percent, respectively.
Niedzielski said he and the Polish government have been trying to renegotiate the country's contracts for COVID-19 vaccines. These negotiations were unsuccessful, which forced the country to trigger the force majeure clause in Poland's contract for vaccine deliveries.
A force majeure clause frees signatories from any of their contractual liabilities or obligations when faced with exceptional circumstances. In this case, Poland believes the dwindling demand for COVID-19 vaccines is sufficient enough to be an exceptional circumstance.
Niedzielski recognized that this will create a legal conflict between Poland, the EU and Big Pharma, but the country is prepared.
The health minister pointed out that Poland is unable to directly terminate its contract for the supply of vaccines to the country, as Poland itself is not the signatory to the EU's contracts with vaccine manufacturers.
Pfizer, in a statement, agreed with Niedzielski and pointed out that its contract to supply COVID-19 vaccines to Europe is with the European Commission, not with any individual EU member state.
The contract for supplying COVID-19 vaccines to Poland is until the very end of 2023. Not a lot of details are known about this contract, as the details of vaccine deliveries are considered confidential.
From what little information has leaked to the public, one vaccine manufacturer received over six billion zlotys ($1.4 billion) from Poland, with over two billion zlotys ($467 million) of that for COVID-19 vaccines to be delivered throughout 2022.
Niedzielski noted that the government wants to spread out the 67 million COVID-19 vaccine doses it is set to receive this year across 10 years and to pay only for the doses it has received.
"It's a major financial burden," said Niedzielski. "Poland is facing serious financial strains related to the influx of [Ukrainian] refugees."
European Commission spokesperson for Health, Food Safety and Regional Policy Stefan De Keersmaecker said during a press briefing on Tuesday that the commission was aware of the situation.
"Member states are bound by their contractual obligations but the commission, of course, understands the difficult position that Poland is in," said De Keersmaecker. "We will continue to facilitate discussion between the Polish government and the company in order to find a pragmatic solution."
For more COVID-related stories, visit at Pandemic.news.
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