In secret coronavirus vaccine contracts with governments, Pfizer took hard line in push for profit, report says – The Washington Post

by health and nutrition advice journalist

But the rapid proliferation of the vaccine, under 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, even as demand surges amid new negotiations for one of the world’s most sought-after products.

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 dose. 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.

“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.

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.

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.

Castillo said that Pfizer had committed to a tiered pricing approach, with wealthier nations paying about the cost of a takeout meal per dose and lower-middle-income countries offered prices at a not-for-profit price. Some 99 million doses had reached low- and lower-middle-income countries so far, and the company expects “substantial increase in shipments to these countries through the end of the year.”

Contract terms related to sovereign immunity may have been an attempt to cover for some risks over which the company has little control, including the use of new, unapproved vaccines in partner countries where the company has little oversight over storage and distribution. Pfizer may have been worried about opportunistic lawsuits in countries where it had not filed patents, Barnes-Weise said.

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.”

At least two countries that initially backed out of negotiations with Pfizer later returned. In January, Brazil publicly said Pfizer was insisting on “unfair and abusive” contractual terms, pointing to the confidentiality clauses. Just months later, Brazil signed a $1 billion contract with the drug giant for 100 million doses. Public Citizen says that the signed contract, later leaked, contained many of the provisions that Brazil once opposed.

Argentina also rejected early negotiations with Pfizer, with the country’s former health minister publicly saying the company “behaved very badly” and was making demands that did not comply with Argentine law. The country later agreed to purchase 20 million doses. The unredacted contract has not been released.

Covax, a World Health Organization-backed vaccine-sharing initiative, has purchased only a relatively modest 40 million doses directly from Pfizer, with reports of disputes during subsequent negotiations. Covax later reached an agreement with the United States for Washington to buy and redistribute 500 million Pfizer doses to low-income countries through Covax.

This content was originally published here.

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