Press conference by Prime Minister Edi Rama ahead of arrival of first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine under contract with pharmaceutical company Pfizer:
Good evening everyone!
We have invited today to do what you were rightly worried about, as we have also witnessed it to be the case in other countries too, because the delivery of the first batch of the vaccines under the contract with company Pfizer is about to begin in a while.
As you already know, we have commenced the vaccination programme with an initial batch of vaccines donated by a friendly EU member state, whose country I cannot yet disclose, while we have also signed a direct contract with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Such a direct contract has been signed by Albania and Serbia only. Other countries, as you are witnessing for yourselves, other countries are unfortunately still waiting, while the vaccine issue is increasingly becoming complicated and Europe has been plunged into chaos because of the vaccine, not only the EU, but other big developed countries as well that have threatened legal actions.
I am saying all these so that we don’t forget that we have anyway guaranteed the vaccination process and we will continue the process thanks to the fact that we didn’t drop ourselves in the hands – I am not saying coincidence – but in the hands of others. We didn’t wait for the COVAX mechanism to become operational. COVAX is still in a process that has yet to be seen when it is going to begin. We are constantly contacting with COVAX, but they are themselves unaware and they decline to provide clarity on what is going to happen.
Of course, this is a dynamic situation and it can change any day, but what is happening – and I have told you this since day one – what is happening with the vaccine behind the camera, and away from the public’s eyes and outside the government’s official communication is a saga of its own. It is an incredible trade and political battle.
I am very pleased we have succeeded in the efforts not to remain within the vicious circle where many other countries are unfortunately in. Likewise, I haven’t forgotten the fact that I have pledged to help Kosovo, yet I would like to clarify that the rules and the limitations imposed by Pfizer company are extremely strict, and, just like we were forced to strictly abide by the pledge not to reveal the name of the country from where the initial vaccines came from and with which we launched the vaccination programme, these rules make it impossible for us to donate vaccine doses to others. However, it can’t prevent us from offering the vaccine to a number of COVID-designated hospital doctors and nurses in Pristina, as we have already pledged, and inject the vaccine to them here, within the territory of the Republic of Albania. To this end, I have asked the Minister of Health to contact her Kosovo counterpart and as soon as our friends make their decision, we are ready to welcome an initial group of 50 frontline Kosovo doctors, so that they can receive the two doses of the vaccine.
Pfizer will be delivering the first batch of the vaccines, precisely a total of 1170 doses, which would allow us to include in the vaccination process – in addition to the healthcare workers who have received the first dose, including me, and for which we have secured the second doses – 1170 more doctors and nurses. Meanwhile, Pfizer has vowed – I am not going to set a certain date, since such dates change constantly and not because of us – to deliver the promised vaccine doses, the first shipment of 10750 doses and a second shipment of 31.000 doses, within February. So, the 41.000 vaccine doses that were expected to be delivered by end of January and in early February will be delivered within February. We will inform you if schedule on provision of these planed delivery changes again,
Most importantly, the vaccination process should continue with other doctors and nurses, according to the list.
As soon as other vaccine shipments arrive, we will be able to start the immunisation programme for the older adults in line with the plan already drafted by the Ministry of Health.
Meanwhile, we are very close to finalizing the contract with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for its anti-COVID vaccine.
I can’t disclose more details, since any detail that can revealed today could actually change just a day later and this is not because of us, yet we are optimistic over a considerable quantity of AstraZeneca vaccine that would allow us to move forward with the plan of executing the first vaccination scenario to vaccinate all individuals falling into the category of people who should receive the vaccine and who wish to do so, since the vaccination is not mandatory. The first scenario sets for the process to complete in 14 months.
Together with Pfizer we have been also exploring ways to provide vaccine deliveries in March, April and June as the contractual schedule is flexible, but we are not relying on Pfizer or COVAX mechanism only; neither on the EU, nor on any other country. In the meantime, we are intensely interacting with four EU and non-EU states in efforts to secure vaccines from the Western part of the planet.
I guess you know that many more vaccines are on their way to become available and receive approval. We have established contacts with all producers of these candidate vaccines. I am very confident we are living up by our duty.
– Given that we will be attending another press conference tomorrow, I am going to stick to the topic of this communication. You said that Pfizer is being threatened by legal actions over the failure to respect the contract terms. Taking notice that the company has also failed to abide by the contract with Albania as it delayed the delivery of these vaccines and it didn’t actually provided 10.000 doses, but only 1000, do you plan to file any complaints against Pfizer, considering the fact that the company demands that everyone strictly comply with the contract terms, taking also into account what you already said that you can’t provide vaccines to Kosovo because of the contract terms. Or will we be grateful taking notice of what the EU did towards us?
PM Edi Rama: The term preventing anyone from providing the vaccine to third parties is not imposed on us only, but it is a imposed on everyone else and this is the reason why that other country, which we can’t name, doesn’t want its name to be disclosed.
–Because it has violated the contract?
PM Edi Rama: No, it is somehow different, but, however, even if that country has violated the contract, are you worried why it violated the contract, or are you happy that we were good enough in succeeding to convince our friends to violate that contract for our sake? It doesn’t matter how you translate it, but it is actually neither this, nor that. It is a very controversial clause from an interpretive point of view; however, we do not want to take any steps in this regard for now, regarding the interpretation of this clause. Therefore, are very happy that our Kosovo brothers and sisters, whom we do not want to let them wait endlessly, but give them the opportunity to receive the vaccine, and we welcome them anytime they want to do so and as soon as they will be able to come and receive the vaccine here, along with their colleagues here in Albania.
As for the other issue, no, we do not even think about referring Pfizer to the courts, because, for the sake of truth, Pfizer has behaved in the best possible way with Albania. I don’t want to involve in the debate between those who complain about Pfizer and the company, because I am not entitled to do so, but I think that as far as we are concerned and the way we read the contract, Pfizer has not violated the contract with us. I said that the delivery schedules are flexible and this is also valid even when Pfizer delays its shipments for a while, and even when Pfizer can speed up the delivery process, because certain rascals, mischief-makers, led by a notorious digital rascal, who were actually involved in a shameful act as they published and commented stealthy and surreptitiously secured pages of a draft-contract, and rushed to comment through extreme terms as part of their efforts to poison people as much as possible by misinterpreting that part of the contract and claiming that the vaccines will be delivered during the electoral campaign for the propaganda reasons, because the majority of the vaccine doses won’t be delivered earlier that next autumn and claiming that two million citizens would be denied the vaccine. That “digital rascal” has actually gone that far.
But no, the truth is completely different.
First of all, the vaccines can be injected neither for electoral campaign reasons, nor for show, or propaganda goals, let alone administering them in order to fool people ahead of the parliamentary elections. February came, March will come and people will be here, and you will also be here and you will see for yourselves how the process will go on. This has nothing to do with the electoral campaign. This has nothing to do with either the propaganda or the elections. This has to do with the fact that no matter whether they like it or not, Albania as a government that can succeed in doing things other countries around us failed to do. In this regard, Pfizer deserves our respect and gratitude only, because in our view it has not violated any clause. On the contrary, just like it asked for more time to deliver the initial doses, the company is now discussing with us the ways to deliver more vaccine doses during the period between February and next autumn.
However, we haven’t put ourselves in Pfizer’s hands. While we keep negotiating with Pfizer on ways to speed up deliveries and we have established fantastic relations with the company thanks to their human values, but it is our merit we have established such fantastic ties with them, we are also negotiating with other vaccine producers. I would now like to focus on the payments and the vaccine price issue. We could have secured more Pfizer vaccine doses, to put it clearly. We could have received a lot more, but I have already said that the essential difference between us and those opposing us is that the latter play checkers, so you capture this piece and I can capture this one, or they gamble, whereas we play chess.
We play chess in the negotiations of whatever level and with whoever they be and we play chess in terms of how we plan and deliver on our plans in all directions. That’s why we always win and we win for the country’s interest and not for our own vested interest. Whereas they say let the country win so that we can also earn whatever we can.
– Mr. Prime Minister, just like it did with Pfizer, the government of Albania is directly negotiating with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. How many vaccines you expect to secure under an agreement with AstraZeneca, you said that will be finalized soon, and is Albania also open to negotiate with other vaccine producers? I mean companies in Eastern countries, including China or Russia?
PM Edi Rama: We can’t talk about quantities, because it would be senseless to suggest numbers at a time when we are in a negotiating process, or more precisely, at a time when the Reconstruction Minister and the Health Minister are negotiating and I help them modestly. Surely, we have every reason to believe that we have guaranteed our process. When we talk about negotiations with AstraZeneca, we are not negotiating with AstraZeneca, we are not negotiating with the company directly. We are actually negotiating with some other states. It is a war, a kind of a trade war, with vaccines exchanged and not money, and of course, there is a lot of politics involved.
As to the vaccines produced in the Eastern flank, namely the Chinese and Russian vaccines, since I don’t know whether there is a vaccine being produced by other countries, we don’t have any prejudice of scientific nature, quite the opposite, we respect scientists who have given life to two these vaccines, yet it is our choice to demand vaccines produced in Western flank of Albania. It is a choice we have made, as it combines a lot of elements, and not only one. If the EU is going to open to the Russian vaccines, we would review our approach immediately. As long as the European Union is closed to such options, we will maintain the same position with the EU.
–Mr. Prime Minister, the continuity of the vaccination process is definitely good news to everyone. Yet, Albania is obviously going through a delicate time regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic, always based on the Ministry of Health data. Last week ended with 65 deaths and more than 5.000 fresh cases. My question is, if the situation remains unchanged, will further restrictive measures will be imposed? Do we face the prospect of a second lockdown, if the situation remains unchanged?
PM Edi Rama: we actually expected these numbers, because the fresh cases certainly surge with the country’s reopening, and if a lockdown is imposed the number of new cases could go down, but only temporarily. But we can’t observe a lockdown until the virus is gone, because this is impossible. So, the strategy is that we go ahead cautiously by constantly trying to convince people to do their part and comply with a set of simple measures. One could ask why you still wear the face mask. Don’t you trust in the vaccine you already received, or it was merely physiological water, as a political commentator claimed? We actually need to discharge some physiological water from the head of some commentators, as their water content is above the normal level. But I have definitely received the vaccine and, as I have already promised, I will make available the results of the antibodies test. This would be the occasion to understand the vaccine effects on me and it is only then you would believe that I have higher than normal levels of antibodies. I would invite you to believe the latter.
In the meantime, unfortunately there are repeated violations of the measures and all these come at a cost. It sounds like nonsense, but they come at a cost. I would have wished for each and every one of you to be here today, but we have a limited number of you here because we stick strictly to the number of people who can attend a gathering set by the Ministry of Health, by the Technical Committee. I do respect a lot Ermal Mamaqi, and he is my friend, but Ermal Mamaqi cannot set an example like the one he gave to Albanians. He can’t do so for whatever the reason. I am mentioning Ermal as he is my friend. He received the fine as he deserved. I am not going to mention other names so that it doesn’t sound as if I am distinguishing among them, but it is impossible to go away with it when the rules are violated. Let alone the political parties, including the Socialist Party branches in various districts across the country or in various party meetings, where they forget this fact. This is also indifference, disregard for the rules, it is also carelessness, but it is unforgivable. If we are to decide over more restrictive measures, we will primarily stiffen the existing ones. We wouldn’t have to invent something new. I understand students who wish to return to their classrooms, but students in other countries have yet to return to their auditoriums. The Committee, upon a request tabled by the Minister of Education, is exploring the ways to be somehow flexible in this regard. That’s why the universities have been asked to consider the exams that could go virtual, since students are demanding to return to university for the exams at least. It is not the measures to be blamed for this and since people in cafes violate these rules, it doesn’t mean that everyone should follow their lead. So, if we are to talk about ways to further stiffen the restrictive measures, it is up to the Technical Committee of Experts to make such a decision. I believe that as long as the Committee hasn’t yet proposed more stringent measures, we should merely stiffen the existing ones. We should merely comply with the measures in place so that we don’t contribute to the further spread of the disease and instead we become contributors to the fight against this disease. I hope we won’t be forced to mull plans over a second lockdown, but we should be realistic, this is a war of nerves that everyone should fight and if everyone does his part, we would overcome things easier. Taking notice of what happened during the year-end holidays, we expected the fresh coronavirus cases to increase and it was clear this would certainly be the case. We hope to maintain the current trend and see the situation stabilize further, because we would be unable to cope with the situation if the fresh cases are to surge uncontrollably. The virus is not gone and we have to be careful.
– The union of university employees has been calling for them to be included in the national vaccination plan in order to return to the auditoriums as soon as possible. What is the government plan given that, as you said, the exam semester is approaching?
PM Rama: What’s is the point of the university and college trade union when they issue senseless statements on who should receive the vaccine. Obviously, everyone wishes to receive the vaccine, but there is a vaccination plan to be executed based on the available quantity of the vaccine doses. This is what every country is doing, and this is what we are doing too. I certainly understand they are at risk, like you are at risk, because you work on the ground and you are contacting people. However, the university union employees and you should show utmost care, because it is not your turn to receive the vaccine, and this is not because we don’t wish to do so, but because doctors and health workers are most at risk for COVID-19. The older people are most at risk. The university union should take advantage of this moment when they don’t have to deliver lectures to 50 or 60 students at same classroom. So this is a measure designed to primarily protect the university professors, who would be most at risk should the universities were to open their doors. This would naturally trigger more virus outbreaks and would allow the virus to spread easily.
– For which categories will these Pfizer vaccine doses will be used and would you provide a figure or cost? How much they cost?
PM Edi Rama: We cannot reveal a cost, because, as you have seen all over the world, Pfizer’s contract is shrouded in trade secrecy, which, however, with the help of some “rascals” was broken, thus committing a shameful act, but it does not matter. We cannot provide you any data. What you have seen is a draft, and not the contract itself. They are merely excerpts from the contract. This is forbidden for everyone, not just us. I have already told you, if you find a country that would reveal the price, then we will be the second country to do so.
As for who will be vaccinated, we will continue with the doctors and nurses. The moment the next doses arrive this month, we will start the vaccination program for the older adults.
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