How Pfizer tried to bully Argentina and Brazil in exchange for vaccines

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi, India Published: Feb 24, 2021, 11:01 PM(IST)

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

While countries like India are sending free vaccines to poorer nations, there are companies like Pfizer which are bullying governments. The US-based company Pfizer is holding governments to ransom, interfering with their legislation, and even demanding military bases as guarantee

While countries like India are sending free vaccines to poorer nations, there are companies like Pfizer which are bullying governments. The US-based company Pfizer is holding governments to ransom, interfering with their legislation, and even demanding military bases as guarantee.

Pfizer has vaccine deals with 9 latin American and Caribbean countries - Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Yurug-waae. Two major latin American nations are missing from this list are Argentina and Brazil.

What happened in Argentina?

Talks between Argentina and Pfizer began in June 2020. In July, President Alberto Fernandez held a meeting with Pfizer's Argentina CEO.

Then, Pfizer asked to be compensated for the cost of any future civil lawsuits. If someone files a civil lawsuit against Pfizer in Argentina and wins that case, the government of Argentina and not Pfizer would pay the compensation. So, Argentina's parliament passed a new law in October 2020, but Pfizer was unhappy with its phrasing. The law said Pfizer needs to at least pay for negligence, for its own mistakes if it happens to make any in the future.

Also read: Pfizer first dose 85% effective after 2-4 weeks, study says

Pfizer rejected this, after which Argentina offered to amend the law to define negligence more clearly - to include only vaccine distribution and delivery under negligence.

Pfizer was still not happy and demanded the law be amended through a new decree, which Argentina refused. Pfizer then asked Argentina to buy an international insurance to pay for potential future cases against Pfizer, to which the country agreed.

In December 2020, Pfizer came back with more demands, and demanded sovereign assets as collateral. Pfizer wanted Argentina to put its bank reserves, military bases and embassy buildings at stake. Vaccine manufacturers have always enjoyed a certain amount of liability waiver. Say you receive a vaccine from Pfizer and then you have adverse effects because of the jab.

You can always go ahead and file a lawsuit against Pfizer. If you win that lawsuit - instead of Pfizer, the government will compensate you. This is normal. In the United States for example, the PREP Act (Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness act) gives total immunity to companies like Pfizer and Moderna.

But only if something goes wrong unintentionally, and this does not apply to negligence. But Pfizer wanted more - Not just sovereign assets but a fraud insurance, something with which Argentina did not agree with.

What happened in Brazil?

Pfizer went a step ahead and asked Brazil to create a guarantee fund, and deposit money in a foreign bank account.

On January 23, 2021 - Brazil’s Health Ministry put out a statement citing excerpts from Pfizer’s pre-contract clauses.

Also read: Brazil approves Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine despite unavailability in country

Here’s a list of Pfizer's demands - Brazil waives the sovereignty of its assets abroad in favour of Pfizer, that the rules of the land - be not applied on Pfizer, that Brazil take into consideration a delay in delivery, that Pfizer is not penalised for a delayed delivery, and that in case of any side effects, Pfizer be exempted from all civil liability.

The government of Brazil calls these clauses abusive. The Pfizer deal with Brazil failed too.

What's Pfizer's game?

Another report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism spoke about another country whose deal with Pfizer was reportedly pushed back by three months because the company made similar, bizarre demands.

The company has just 2 billion doses to deliver this year on a first come, first serve basis. A delay of 3 months could cost a whole year, and could cost lives. Pfizer is playing with life-saving drugs and abusing its position after having developed a vaccine with the help of government funding.

Pfizer's German partner - BioNTech was given $445 million by the government of Germany. The US paid Pfizer 2 billion dollars as early as July 2020 for pre-orders. Pfizer is looking at making 15 billion dollars from vaccine sales this year, and is in talks with 100 countries and organisations. On January 22, Pfizer signed an agreement with Covax and committed 40 million doses to poor countries this year.

Here’s what an excerpt from a press release by the company said. “At Pfizer, we believe that every person deserves to be seen, heard and cared for. That's why from the very beginning of our vaccine development program, Pfizer and BioNTech have been firmly committed to working toward equitable and affordable access of COVID-19 vaccines for people around the world”, it read.

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