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News > Argentina

Pfizer Vaccine's High Cost for Latin American Countries

  • A handout photo made available by the Presidency of Colombia shows the arrival of a shipment with 50,310 vaccines from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, at the El Dorado International Airport, in Bogota, Colombia, 24 February 2021.

    A handout photo made available by the Presidency of Colombia shows the arrival of a shipment with 50,310 vaccines from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, at the El Dorado International Airport, in Bogota, Colombia, 24 February 2021. | Photo: EFE/EPA/Nicolas Galeano

Published 25 February 2021

The demands that biotech giant Pfizer has made to some countries in Latin America amount to "abuse and intimidation," according to experts privy to the negotiations.

The US pharmaceutical company Pfizer has been accused of "intimidating" Latin American governments in negotiations to sell them its Covid-19 vaccine. The company asked some countries to put up sovereign assets, such as embassy buildings and military bases, as collateral to reimburse any future litigation costs.

WHO Approves the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

The unusual and steep requirements in the negotiations for vaccine supply conditions led to months of delays in agreements with some countries. Argentina and Brazil did not accept Pfizer's demands and decided to reject the vaccine. The case has been investigated and revealed by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) in conjunction with the Peruvian media Ojo Público.

Officials from Argentina and another Latin American country, not named due to a confidentiality agreement, claimed that the company's negotiators demanded a series of indemnities against civil claims, both for adverse effects of the vaccine and their own negligence. Legal experts have expressed that Pfizer's demands amount to an abuse of power, according to the report by TBIJ.

According to Pfizer, each Government must pay it an indemnity to cover any compensation costs that may arise from civil cases brought by citizens related to severe adverse effects following a vaccine.

The company also requires additional indemnification when a government agrees to cover the company for civil cases' potential costs brought due to its own acts of negligence, fraud, or malice, the research notes. For example, if the company interrupts the cold chain and spoils or delivers the wrong vaccine. This includes adverse effects, medical events that occur resulting from receiving a vaccine and may result in injury, disability, or death of the patient.

Generally, most governments offer compensation to vaccine manufacturers. This means that a citizen who suffers an adverse effect after being vaccinated can file a lawsuit against the manufacturer. If successful, it is the Government that would pay the compensation and not the manufacturing company. This is a relatively common case for vaccines administered during a pandemic, experts explain.

Government officials from Argentina and the unnamed country who spoke to TBIJ commented that Pfizer's demands for additional compensation went beyond those of other pharmaceuticals and beyond those of Covax, an organization created to ensure that low-income countries can access vaccines.

"Some liability protection is warranted, but certainly not for fraud, gross negligence, mismanagement, or failure to comply with good manufacturing practices," Professor Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization's Collaborating Center for National and Global Health Law, said. "Companies are not entitled to seek indemnification for these things," he added.

During negotiations with Pfizer, Argentina's Government even had to make corrections to its legislation to accommodate the company's claims but, in the end, refused to compensate it for its own mistakes. 
The talks' final point was the request to offer sovereign assets, which could include federal bank reserves, embassy buildings, or military bases, as collateral. In the end, Buenos Aires decided to opt for the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, AstraZeneca's vaccine, and vaccines delivered through Covax. The Government is also negotiating the acquisition of vaccines from Moderna, Sinopharm, and CanSino.

Pfizer made the same demands to the Brazilian Ministry of Health. They were also rejected and qualified as "abusive." Nevertheless, the Brazilian Government continues to facilitate the arrival of vaccines in its country through legislation changes.

Pfizer has been in discussions with more than 100 countries and supranational organizations and has supply agreements with nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay. The terms of these agreements are unknown.

Meanwhile, Pfizer itself assured that they are "committed to supporting efforts to provide developing countries with the same access to vaccines as the rest of the world."

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