The European Union is adding clauses to contracts with Covid-19 vaccine makers which would allow the bloc to gain access to possible upgraded shots that may offer better protection against variants of the virus, three EU sources said.
More contagious mutations are spreading fast in the EU and across the world, with the so-called UK variant seen by experts as likely to become prevalent on the continent.
In new contracts with vaccine manufacturers, the EU is adding clauses that explicitly cover variants, three EU officials involved in talks with the companies told Reuters.
Vaccine makers are testing their shots against variants and are also working on tweaks that could make them more effective against virus mutations.
One official said the clauses would allow the EU not to buy vaccines that are not effective against widespread variants, and to order upgraded versions instead. However, the source said clauses were vague on the definition of variants and the actual legal power they would give the EU.
New supply deals
The three officials said that an anti-variant clause was included in a second contract finalised earlier in February with Pfizer and BioNTech for the supply of 300 million additional doses of their Covid-19 vaccine.
Pfizer and the European Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Studies have shown the Pfizer vaccine can be effective against the UK and the South African variants. The company is also working on a booster shot that would be tailored against variants.
The EU now wants to add these clauses in new supply deals and is considering whether to upgrade its existing contracts, the officials said.
The bloc is negotiating new supply agreements with Novavax, Valneva and Moderna to increase its vaccine reserve beyond the nearly 2.3 billion doses which it has already secured from six pharmaceutical firms.
On Wednesday, the EU Commission will present a series of measures to boost the EU preparedness against variants, including new funds to help sequence the genome of the new coronavirus and spot variants.
Most EU countries have so far done little or no sequencing at all.