Pfizer has the power to “silence” governments and “maximize profits”, consumer group says

COVID-19 vaccine maker Pfizer has been accused of hiding behind a veil of secrecy to profit from the “worst public health crisis” in more than 100 years.

This is the main criticism from Public Citizen, a consumer rights group, which published a report containing leaks of Pfizer contracts with the US, UK, European Commission, Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic and Peru.

In some of the contracts (some of which were in draft or final form), Pfizer had the power to prevent countries from donating their COVID-19 vaccines to other countries, from unilaterally changing delivery schedules by shortage and demand that public assets be used as collateral.

If there was a dispute, it would not be resolved by a tribunal (a public forum), according to some of the contracts. Instead, they said, any disagreement would be resolved through private arbitration under New York law.

“The contracts offer a rare glimpse of the power a pharmaceutical company has acquired to silence governments, reduce supply, shift risk and maximize profits in the worst public health crisis in a century,” said Zain Rizvi , the author of the report.

Some countries have signed contracts, waiving “immunity against [Pfizer’s] seizure of one of the [their] assets ”, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

The Brazilian government has been prohibited from making “any public announcement concerning the existence, purpose or conditions of [the] agreement ”or comment on his relationship with Pfizer, unless he has obtained the prior written consent of the company.

Unclear provisions

Since August, the Australian government has entered into a vaccine exchange agreement with Singapore and Great Britain and has purchased 1 million doses of Pfizer from Poland.

But it’s not clear whether the federal government needed to seek authorization from Pfizer before it could enter into these deals.

It is also not clear whether the government signed a contract stating that Australia would waive its right to avail itself of sovereign immunity if Pfizer made a request for asset seizure (a clause that was in the contracts with several countries).

The ABC asked these questions to the Department of Health.

In an emailed statement, the department said, “Details of the Advance Purchase Agreement (APA) with Pfizer for the purchase of their COVID-19 vaccine are trading with confidence.”

As of Wednesday, 70% of Australians aged 16 and over had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a key step in the federal government’s plan to reopen the country.

Prior to that, the government was heavily criticized for the slow rollout of the vaccine and the decision by the health minister’s office not to meet with Pfizer executives until August 4, months after it was first approached by the company.

Documents released under freedom of information laws showed health ministry officials were unwilling to sign a confidentiality agreement before meeting with Pfizer officials because it was “not standard practice “.

There were other reasons for the delay in vaccination, including general reluctance to the vaccine and concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine and the extremely rare risk of recipients of developing a blood clot.

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The company will be “naturally blamed”

Pfizer closely monitors the supply of its vaccines, even after delivery.

For example, Brazil is not allowed to buy or accept donated Pfizer doses from another country without Pfizer’s approval, nor can it sell, donate or transport its vaccines outside of the country. from the country.

There is a reasonable explanation for this requirement to be included in Pfizer’s contracts, according to University of Queensland biotech and pharmaceutical expert Trent Munro.

“When drug companies release a product, they usually lose control of where it’s stored,” he said.

“If, for example, the vaccine is damaged or does not work properly, the responsibility will fall on the company. They would naturally be blamed even if they do not control the distribution.”

Even when a country has ordered vaccines from Pfizer and is waiting for them to arrive, the company has the power to change the vaccine delivery schedule, without consulting the country or incurring a penalty. This term appears in its contracts with Albania, Brazil and Colombia.

The contracts that Brazil, Chile, Colombia and the Dominican Republic signed were broad enough to cover situations where they could not invoke sovereign immunity if they violated the agreement and Pfizer wanted to go after it. their public assets.

These nations have pledged to “expressly and irrevocably waive any right of immunity that it or its assets may have or acquire in the future.”

Public Citizen also said it has reviewed contracts in which governments were to “indemnify, defend and hold Pfizer harmless from and against all lawsuits, claims, actions, demands, damages, costs and expenses related to vaccine intellectual property.”

Pfizer has been contacted for comment.

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