Report: How Pfizer Silences World Governments in Vaccine Negotiations

Contracts Show Pfizer Controls Vaccine Donations and Delivery Schedules, Bars Governments’ Public Discussion of Agreements

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new Public Citizen report has revealed the extent to which Pfizer bullies governments in COVID-19 vaccine negotiations, including barring governments from discussing the agreements without Pfizer’s approval, retaining unilateral control to make key decisions and even securing an intellectual property waiver for itself.

“Pfizer is taking advantage of countries’ desperation,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program. “Most of us have sacrificed during the pandemic; staying distant to protect family and friends. Pfizer went the other way, using its control of scarce vaccines to win special privileges, from people that have little choice.”

In February, Pfizer was accused of bullying governments in a story published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Public Citizen has identified several Pfizer contracts, including with Brazil, Colombia, the European Commission and the U.S., that offer a glimpse into how the world’s second largest pharmaceutical corporation has gained the power to throttle supply, shift risk and maximize profits all during the worst public health crisis in a century.

The report outlines how Pfizer consistently utilizes six tactics to leverage power against governments worldwide. First, Pfizer silences governments through the use of nondisclosure provisions in many of its contracts. Brazil, for example, is prohibited from making “any public announcement concerning the existence… or terms” of the contract or commenting on its relationship with Pfizer without Pfizer’s prior written consent. Second, Pfizer can disallow governments from accepting additional donations of the Pfizer vaccine.

Third, Pfizer exempts itself from liability for intellectual property infringements, shifting the financial risk of Pfizer’s actions to government purchasers – despite Pfizer’s opposition to similar exemptions for manufacturers proposed at the World Trade Organization. Fourth, it gives the power to secret private arbitrators, not public courts, to decide issues on contract disputes. Fifth, Pfizer requires some countries to waive sovereign immunity, so it can go after state assets in case of a dispute. Finally, Pfizer gives itself sole power when it comes to making key decisions, including how vaccine deliveries will be prioritized if there is a supply shortage.

“Behind closed doors, Pfizer wields its power to extract a series of concerning concessions from governments,” said Zain Rizvi, law and policy researcher at Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program and author of the report. “The global community cannot allow pharmaceutical corporations to keep calling the shots.”

Pfizer’s dominance over sovereign countries poses fundamental challenges to the global pandemic response. The U.S. government, and specifically the Biden administration, should use its considerable leverage to call on Pfizer to renegotiate its existing contracts and pursue fairer practices.

Read the full report here.

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