URGENT: Romanian prosecutors are investigating the country's former prime minister for spending $1 billion on Pfizer Covid jabs that were never used
Worldwide, governments have paid Pfizer and other vaccine companies tens of billions of dollars for Covid shots that will never be used because of lack of demand
The Romanian Senate yesterday opened the way for prosecutors to investigate Florin Citu, Romania’s prime minister in 2021, for spending $1.1 billion on 53 million mRNA Covid jabs from Pfizer which Romania never used.
Citu now serves as a senator in Romania, a post that makes him immune from prosecution. The Senate voted 90-2 to lift that immunity and allow the investigation to move forward, Romanian news outlets reported.
Prosecutors are also examining the roles of two former Romanian health ministers in the jab purchase. All three may be charged with “abuse of power” (also translated as “abuse of office”), prosecutors have said.
(I don’t abuse power, I hold it to account. Help me - for 20 cents a day.)
The criminal investigation is the latest sign of how far, and how fast, mRNA Covid shots have fallen, particularly in Europe.
In May 2021, European countries were so desperate to get mRNAs that they agreed to spend over $20 billion to buy 900 million Pfizer shots - on top of 600 million they had already purchased. (The May deal included an option to buy yet another 900 million shots, for 1.8 billion total - four shots for every person in the EU.)
At the time, continental Europe lagged both the United States and the United Kingdom in Covid vaccinations, and European leaders faced huge pressure to catch up. Europe had expected AstraZeneca’s DNA jab to make up a large part of its supply, but AstraZeneca ran into manufacturing problems at the same time as safety questions arose about its vaccine.
Suddenly, the mRNAs from Pfizer and Moderna had cornered the market in wealthy countries cornered, and Pfizer had ramped up its manufacturing more quickly than Moderna and had far more jabs available in the next few months.
The European Union happily agreed to pay 19.5 euros per jab - almost $24 based on exchange rates at the time. (The doses were to be split proportionally among EU members so they would not bid against each other for them.)
“Good news for our long term fight to protect European citizens against the virus and its variants!” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, crowed in a press release announcing the deal. “Production and delivery in the EU of up to 1.8 billion doses are guaranteed.”
(The deal from hell:)
Over the next few months, Western European countries passed the United States in the percentage of the adult population they vaccinated, and demand remained relatively high for the first booster dose in winter 2021/22.
But after the mRNA jabs proved largely worthless against Omicron infections, demand collapsed in Europe, as it did in the United States. (Europe was always more skeptical than the United States of the value of Covid jabs for infants and children under 12.)
In July, Germany’s health ministry reported that country had tossed out roughly 200 million doses which cost roughly $4 billion. Hundreds of millions of shots bought by the United States have also expired unused, though American health authorities have never provided even a ballpark estimates.
But the oversupply problem is worst in poorer Eastern European countries, where demand for the jabs is lower - and the budget hit harder to tolerate.
Last week, Pfizer sued the government of Poland to force it to pay about $1.5 billion for 60 million shots the Poles do not want. In Romania, which is even smaller and poorer and has strong anti-vaccine sentiment, the anger is even deeper.
(Hot off the presses, from romania-insider.com. Because who doesn’t want to get inside Romania?)
While yesterday’s vote does not guarantee changes will be file, it means Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate, or DNA, can officially open an investigation into Citu and the former health ministers, as the DNA requested last week in making a 27-volume-report to the Senate.
The prosecutors claimed their initial investigation showed that Citu and the other ministers ordered the shots without considering the demand or need for them.