European governments will pay claims above an agreed limit against AstraZeneca over side-effects from its potential Covid-19 vaccine, under different terms to a deal struck with Sanofi, an EU official told Reuters.
The deals reflect different strategies by two of the world's top drugmakers for protecting themselves as a debate rages about liabilities for vaccines aimed at ending the pandemic.
AstraZeneca has secured the European Union's backing in a confidential agreement which reflects the lower price sought by the British drugmaker, the official said.
"If a company asks for a higher price we don't give the same conditions," said the official, who was involved in the talks but declined to be identified as the contracts are confidential.
Unexpected side-effects after a drug has regulatory approval are rare, but the speed at which a Covid-19 vaccine is being pursued increases the risks of unforeseen conditions.
The deal with AstraZeneca, which shifts some of the risks involved in the roll-out of a vaccine to taxpayers, was struck in August and its liability clauses have not previously been reported.
Under the deal, AstraZeneca would only pay legal costs up to a certain threshold, the official said, declining to elaborate on how the costs would be shared with individual European governments or the cap.
The financial shield would cover both legal costs and potential compensation, which is rarer but potentially a much bigger outlay in the event of something going wrong.
In return for the higher price paid for its vaccine, French drugmaker Sanofi, which is working with GlaxoSmithKline as a partner, did not get any liability waiver.
Spokespeople for AstraZeneca, Sanofi and the European Commission declined to comment on the specifics of the deals.
When asked about AstraZeneca's relatively low price, a spokesman reiterated the company's pledge to share the vaccine widely and not to turn a profit from it during the pandemic.
Under the AstraZeneca deal, EU countries have agreed to pay 2.5 euros per dose, while Sanofi has negotiated a price at around 10 euros, the official said.
As part of the supply deals, the only two sealed so far by Brussels, the EU has also made a non-refundable down payment of 336 million euros to AstraZeneca to secure 400 million doses, proportionately lower than the 324 million euros it paid to Sanofi to secure 300 million doses.
The EU official told Reuters that the contract with AstraZeneca included a narrow definition of side-effects that could limit the possibility of claiming compensation although the company remains liable for its vaccine. (Reuters)
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