Pfizer Requiring Some Latin American Nations to Put Up Assets in Exchange for Vaccine Deals, Report Says
Pfizer has allegedly demanded that certain Latin American governments put up assets as collateral in order to secure supply deals of its COVID-19 vaccine, a nonprofit investigative news organization in the UK has claimed.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the drugmaker requested that Argentina and Brazil offer sovereign assets as part of vaccine agreements as a way to shield itself from legal costs for adverse events that could occur after vaccinations. Some countries in Latin America have been asked to put up assets such as military bases and embassy buildings to ensure protection against possible litigation costs, the bureau claimed.
The company’s request reportedly delayed agreement on a vaccine supply deal by three months for one unnamed country, and for Argentina and Brazil, its demands ended up leaving them without any supply deal at all. An official involved in the supply deals for one Latin country equated Pfizer’s demands to “high-level bullying” and felt the government was being “held to ransom” in its efforts to obtain quantities of vaccines.
Sharon Castillo, Pfizer’s senior director of media relations for Latin America and U.S. government relations, maintained that the company “seeks the same indemnity and liability protections in all of its agreements.”
Being provided indemnity is of great concern to vaccine makers, especially given the mass use of their inoculations during a pandemic such as the coronavirus crisis that could give way to unforeseen adverse events. Governments usually do agree to handle costs of compensation for vaccines given during a pandemic, and most are offering indemnity to vaccine manufacturers they forge supply deals with from having to pay for any successful civil suits. Those compensation costs would be paid by the government instead.
For example, during the Trump administration, HHS Secretary Alex Azar invoked the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, which shields COVID-19 vaccine and treatment makers from liability unless “willful misconduct” is found.
But officials in Argentina and another unnamed country have contended that Pfizer has asked for more in terms of indemnity than what other companies and the World Health Organization (WHO)’s COVAX initiative, which makes its members sign indemnity agreements, have. The officials claimed that the company requested additional indemnity from civil suits that would cover it from acts of negligence, fraud or malice.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO’s Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law who also directs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, told FDAnews that making sovereign assets a condition for vaccine supplies is “unfair and unreasonable” and “an abuse of power.”
“Governments have a duty to safeguard the health and lives of their citizens. They have no choice but to secure life-saving vaccines. This puts private companies in a powerful position, and they should not bully countries into unfair deals,” he said, adding that there should be greater transparency around supply agreements.
Pfizer said that it has allocated doses of vaccines to developing countries at a not-for-profit price since it started developing its vaccine and said it has been in discussions with more than 100 countries and organizations to reach supply agreements.
“We are committed to supporting efforts aimed at providing developing countries with the same access to vaccines as the rest of the world,” the company told FDAnews.
So far, Pfizer has hashed out supply deals with nine Latin American and Caribbean countries: Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. The specifics of those supply deals have not yet been disclosed. — James Miessler