Pfizer’s Treatment of the Global South

A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has alleged Pfizer engaged in “high-level bullying” of Latin American nations during vaccine negotiations. The piece, which relies on unnamed government officials, says Pfizer made brazen demands of a number of countries in exchange for vaccine access.

“They said that Pfizer had been the most difficult company to work with, and the government felt that they had been bullied and held to ransom by Pfizer – that’s using the officials’ own words during these negotiations,” said Madlen Davies, chief global health investigations correspondent at the non-profit bureau.

The most striking claim emerging from the bureau is that Pfizer asked these countries – Argentina, Brazil, and others – to put up sovereign assets as collateral to cover lawsuits stemming from possible adverse vaccine events. The liability protection demanded of governments even extended, reportedly, to covering negligence on Pfizer’s end, including errors made during manufacturing and distribution. 

The deals were ultimately rejected by both Argentina and Brazil, on both the sovereign assets and negligence grounds. A Brazilian government official described the company’s approach to negotiation as “abusive.”

Nine Latin American countries did reach deals with Pfizer. Due to confidentiality agreements, the deals’ terms are unknown.

The treatment stands in stark contrast to the opportunities available to countries like Israel and Australia, which were offered preferential vaccine access in exchange for efficacy data from their health systems. It also draws attention to the major power imbalance between countries in the Global South and large private corporations.

Even in the 2020 fiscal year, before the $15 billion BioNTech vaccine windfall, Pfizer’s annual revenue was approximately six times the annual budget of the Argentine government. Its market capitalisation is about half Argentina’s entire GDP, and Argentina is the third largest economy amongst the region’s 32 countries and approximately 660 million people.

How extreme is this power imbalance? “Five years in the future when these confidentiality agreements are over,” said one official, “you will learn what really happened in these negotiations.”

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