Over two years into the pandemic, major governments worldwide have secured access to Covid-19 vaccines through multi-billion-dollar contracts with pharmaceutical companies. However, the details of these contracts have remained shrouded in secrecy, with both drug companies and governments citing “commercial in confidence.”
Leaked contracts between Pfizer and various international countries in 2021 shed light on the immense power one pharmaceutical corporation wields in this public health crisis. Critics argue that Pfizer’s negotiation tactics bordered on coercion, with some Latin American nations asked to put up sovereign assets as collateral against potential legal cases.
The recent South African high court challenge brought by Health Justice Initiative reveals a concerning asymmetry in the Pfizer contract. It appears as though South Africa was placed under pressure during negotiations, with the contract heavily favoring Pfizer’s interests.
The agreement requires South Africa to “indemnify, defend and hold harmless” Pfizer and its affiliates from any potential legal actions related to the vaccine. This one-sided arrangement has raised questions about accountability for potential injuries arising from the product.
Furthermore, the contract provides Pfizer with extensive protections, not only for the initial vaccine formulation but also for any future strains or derivatives. This affords Pfizer significant flexibility while remaining shielded from liability.
Price disparities have also come to light, with South Africa reportedly paying nearly 33% more per dose compared to the price charged to the African Union.
The contract’s admission that the long-term effects and efficacy of the vaccine were not entirely known at the time contradicts earlier public health messaging that assured safety and effectiveness.
Despite these concerns, efforts to access procurement contracts by various governments, including Australia, have been met with resistance. Questions surrounding what officials knew at the time of signing and how taxpayer funds were allocated remain unanswered.
This veil of secrecy raises critical questions about transparency, accountability, and the prioritization of public safety in these crucial agreements. The balance between commercial interests and public health must be carefully scrutinized.