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25 Feb, 2021 10:27

Legal immunity & state assets as collateral: Latin American govts ‘held to ransom’ by Pfizer during vaccine talks, report says

Legal immunity & state assets as collateral: Latin American govts ‘held to ransom’ by Pfizer during vaccine talks, report says

A number of Latin American countries have reportedly experienced extremely aggressive negotiating tactics by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which has demanded full immunity from any civil claims and state assets as a guarantee.

The questionable negotiating tactics by the pharmaceutical giant have been highlighted in a fresh report by the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ). Officials from Argentina, as well as from another unspecified Latin American country, talked to the outlet, describing Pfizer’s approach to negotiations as “high-level bullying” that made the governments feel like they were being “held to ransom.”

Argentina was among the first countries to begin negotiations with the company. The talks started last June, yet ultimately flopped as Pfizer’s demands became less and less reasonable, an official told the BIJ.

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The pharmaceutical giant assertively demanded additional clauses that would make it immune against any civil claims citizens might file over side effects from receiving the Pfizer jab. While a new bill regulating the vaccination process was adopted in October, the company was still unhappy with its wording, as it did not grant full immunity to pharmaceutical companies but rather allowed a change of jurisdiction established in advance in the contract. Pfizer ultimately requested a “new law” from the government, then-Health Minister Gonzalez Garcia said in December, describing the demands as “somewhat unacceptable.”

“Argentina could compensate for the vaccine’s adverse effects, but not if Pfizer makes a mistake,” the official, cited by BIJ, said. “For example, what would happen if Pfizer unintentionally interrupted the vaccine’s cold … and a citizen wants to sue them? It would not be fair for Argentina to pay for a Pfizer error.”

The company then urged Argentina to take out international insurance to pay for potential future cases against the manufacturer, and ultimately demanded that it put up unspecified sovereign assets as collateral in December.

“We offered to pay for millions of doses in advance, we accepted this international insurance, but the last request was unusual: Pfizer demanded that the sovereign assets of Argentina also be part of the legal support,” the official said.

It was an extreme demand that I had only heard when the foreign debt had to be negotiated, but both in that case and in this one, we rejected it immediately.

Argentina is not the only Latin American country to have faced these tactics – Brazil went public in late January with its condemnation of the “abusive” negotiations. According to the country’s Health Ministry, Pfizer demanded to be indemnified from civil cases and urged the government to create a guarantee fund deposited into a foreign bank account. Brazil was asked to put up assets as collateral as well.

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Approached by BIJ, Pfizer did not elaborate on its negotiating practices, insisting that it has already “allocated doses to low- and lower-middle-income countries at a not-for-profit price.” The company also declined to comment on ongoing private negotiations.

“Pfizer and BioNTech are firmly committed to working with governments and other relevant stakeholders to ensure equitable and affordable access to our Covid-19 vaccine for people around the world,” the pharmaceutical giant stated.

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