Vaccines developed in record time to protect against Covid-19 have been called the key out of the pandemic, even though it is not yet clear whether vaccinated people can continue to transmit the virus. At the same time, it is reported that manufacturers may not be able to meet their delivery commitments, or may be delayed. The question of liability for vaccine damage, which has naturally played an important role in the negotiations between the EU Commission and the manufacturers, has also not yet been adequately answered. In Israel, the government has apparently promised the manufacturer consortium Biontech/Pfizer health data in in addition to the purchase price of the vaccine, in order to enable the manufacturer to carry out further research into the mode of action of the vaccine. It is not yet clear how this data will be anonymized before being passed on to the companies.
After initially refusing to disclose the contracts with the manufacturing companies, the European Commission has allowed members of the European Parliament to inspect at least parts of the contracts in a secrecy room, although it is not known whether parliamentarians will be allowed to pass on or use the knowledge gained as a result. Is this procedure sufficient ?
According to the 2001 Regulation on public access to documents of the EU institutions, every citizen of the Union has the right of access to documents of the EU institutions, which undoubtedly includes contracts concluded by the Commission. Under this Regulation, the Commission may refuse access only to the extent that the protection of the commercial interests of a natural or legal person, including intellectual property, would be prejudiced by disclosure of the contract, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure. No other exceptions are relevant here. Certainly, the contracts with vaccine manufacturers contain information that affects their commercial interests, although it is unlikely that they contain details of the vaccine manufacturing process. However, on certain points, such as the delivery commitments with corresponding schedules and the liability issue, there is an overriding public interest in disclosure, so that the business interest in keeping this information confidential must take a back seat. At most, a confidentiality interest worthy of protection may exist in the negotiated prices for a certain period of time, as long as the demand for vaccines is not yet covered and competing suppliers could derive an advantage from this. The question of whether and in what form the Commission has promised access to health data to manufacturers, similar to the Israeli government, also needs to be answered.
Not only Members of the European Parliament have these access rights, but all citizens in the EU. Insofar as the contracts have been made available to the member states, anyone can also turn to authorities in their home state with their request for access. The latter must then coordinate with the Commission.