20 October, 2021
The rapid proliferation of the vaccine, under Pfizer’s secret contracts negotiated between the company and governments, has unfolded behind a veil of strict secrecy, allowing for little public scrutiny of Pfizer’s burgeoning power. The secret COVID vaccine contracts expose how Pfizer is only worried about maximizing profits and not your health. “It’s almost as if the company would ask the United States to put the Grand Canyon as collateral,” said a professor.
A report (read full report below) released Tuesday by Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group that gained access to a number of leaked, unredacted Pfizer contracts, sheds light on how the company uses that power to “shift risk and maximize profits,” the organization argues.
The Manhattan-based pharmaceutical giant has maintained tight levels of secrecy about negotiations with governments over contracts that can determine the fate of populations.
The “contracts consistently place Pfizer’s interests before public health imperatives,” said Zain Rizvi, the researcher who wrote the report.
Public Citizen found common themes across contracts, including not only secrecy but also language to block donations of Pfizer doses. Disputes are settled in secret arbitration courts, with Pfizer able to change the terms of key decisions, including delivery dates, and demand public assets as collateral.
Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for Pfizer, said that confidentiality clauses were “standard in commercial contracts” and “intended to help build trust between the parties, as well as protect the confidential commercial information exchanged during negotiations and included in final contracts.”
Both Pfizer and Moderna, another U.S. company that developed a vaccine using breakthrough mRNA technology, are facing pressure from critics who accuse them of building a “duopoly.”
Although Pfizer did not accept government funding through the vaccine development program called Operation Warp Speed, it received huge advance orders from the United States. It opposed an intellectual property waiver that could have meant the sharing of its technology.
Experts who reviewed the terms of contracts with foreign governments suggested that some demands were extreme. In contracts reached with Brazil, Chile, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, those states forfeited “immunity against precautionary seizure of any of [their] assets.”
“It’s almost as if the company would ask the United States to put the Grand Canyon as collateral,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of public health law at Georgetown University.
The company rejected that logic. “Pfizer has not interfered and has absolutely no intention of interfering with any country’s diplomatic, military, or culturally significant assets,” Castillo said. “To suggest anything to the contrary is irresponsible and misleading.”
However, this is a blatant lie. In early February, Pfizer was reported demanding military bases and embassy buildings from the government of Argentina.
Some contract demands appear to have slowed vaccine rollouts in countries. At least two countries walked away from negotiations and publicly criticized the company’s demands. However, both later reached agreements with Pfizer.
“Pharma companies have concerns,” said Julia Barnes-Weise, director of the Global Healthcare Innovation Alliance Accelerator. “One of them is, especially for a not-yet-approved vaccine, that they could be held liable for any injury that that vaccine seems to have caused.”
Pfizer’s Secret COVID Vaccine Contracts
Pfizer has formalized 73 deals for its coronavirus vaccine. According to Transparency International, a London-based advocacy group, only five contracts have been formally published by governments, and these with “significant redactions.”
“Hiding contracts from public view or publishing documents filled with redacted text means we don’t know how or when vaccines will arrive, what happens if things go wrong and the level of financial risk buyers are absorbing,” said Tom Wright, research manager at the Transparency International Health Program.
Much of what is known about Pfizer’s contracts has come out in leaks, often through journalism from local outlets or international ones, including the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Public Citizen analyzed an unredacted draft agreement between the company and Albania, as well as unredacted final documents from Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Peru and the European Commission.
Redacted documents published by Chile, the United States and Britain provide further context, though they are missing key details.
The contract reached with Brazil prohibits the government from making “any public announcement concerning the existence, subject matter or terms of [the] Agreement” or commenting on its relationship with Pfizer without the prior written consent of the company.
“This is next-level stuff,” said Tahir Amin, an intellectual property lawyer who co-founded I-Mak, a nonprofit global health organization.
Pfizer exerted control over the supply of vaccine doses after contracts were signed. The Brazilian government was restricted from accepting donations of Pfizer doses or making its own donations. Pfizer also included clauses in contracts with Albania, Brazil and Colombia that it could unilaterally change delivery schedules in the case of shortages.
In contracts with Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Peru, governments were required to sign a document that says each “expressly and irrevocably waives any right of immunity which either it or its assets may have or acquire in the future.”
The first four also were required to waive immunity against “precautionary” seizure of their assets.
Public Citizen found contracts that required governments “‘to indemnify, defend and hold harmless Pfizer’ from and against any and all suits, claims, actions, demands, damages, costs and expenses related to vaccine intellectual property.”
An opaque giant
Pfizer has not experienced the same level of public scrutiny as Moderna, which has been accused of price-gouging and delaying deliveries. Analytics firm Airfinity this week predicted Pfizer will sell $54.5 billion worth of coronavirus vaccine next year, almost twice the value of Moderna’s sales.
One official from a country in the midst of negotiations with Pfizer, who was not authorized to speak on the matter, said that the country found Pfizer difficult to negotiate with but reliable in the delivery of vaccine doses.
However, Transparency International argued that at least four contracts or drafts it examined went “much further” than other vaccine developers, with “more of the risk onto national governments, and away from the developer, even if missteps are made by the developer or supply chain partners, and not just if there is a rare adverse effect of the vaccines.”
Suerie Moon, co-director of the global health center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, said that restrictions on donations were “appalling” and “counter to the goal of getting vaccines as quickly as possible to those who need them.”
Last year, the President of Belarus exposed that the World Bank coronavirus aid comes with conditions for imposing extreme lockdown measures, to model their coronavirus response on that of Italy and even changes in the economic policies which he refused as being “unacceptable”.
Pfizer even wanted India to order its COVID-19 vaccines without any local trials.
Moreover, governments have signed secret agreements with coronavirus vaccine manufacturers as per which the pharma companies cannot be held legally in case of an adverse reaction to the vaccine or in worst case if a patient dies from the vaccine.
Meanwhile, an inquiry has been launched into the secret talks that took place between EU Commission Chief and Pfizer CEO for the sale of vaccines.