J&J, Pfizer are charging South Africa between 15 and 33 percent more for COVID vaccine doses, contracts reveal.
Johannesburg, South Africa – Big pharmaceutical companies are “bullying” South Africa into signing unfair agreements that force the country to overpay for COVID-19 vaccines compared to Western countries, according to a non-profit who lobbied for details to be released.
The details were revealed on Tuesday in an analysis by the Health Justice Initiative (HJI), a South African NGO that campaigns against public health inequalities after it won a court bid last month to get the government to its contracts.
During the height of the pandemic, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) charged South Africa 15 percent more per dose of the COVID vaccine than it charged the European Union, while Pfizer-BioNTech charged South Africa nearly 33 percent more. more than what the African Union reportedly charged. , according to vaccine contracts between pharmaceutical companies and the government.
“In simple terms, Big Pharma is bullying South Africa in these conditions,” HJI director Fatima Hassan told Al Jazeera. “In the midst of a deadly pandemic, when scarce vaccines go only to the richest countries, companies are taking advantage of our desperation.”
“Simply put, the pharmaceutical companies are holding us to ransom,” an HJI press release emphasized.
South Africa is liable to pay at least $734m, HJI said, including advance payments of around $95m, with no guarantee of timely delivery.
“I wouldn’t say we are being bullied, but we are in a catch-22 situation to save the lives of South Africans against all odds,” Foster Mohale, spokesperson for the Department of Health in South Africa, told Al Jazeera. “The Department entered into these agreements to obtain vaccine doses to protect the lives of South Africans against the deadly virus that has claimed more than one hundred thousand lives in South Africa.”
J&J and Pfizer have not yet responded to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment on the matter.
“We hope that more countries will publish their contracts with Big Pharma, so that the world can see how the industry is really governed,” Hassan told Al Jazeera.
The analysis of the documents also showed unfair practices of the Serum Institute of India – which charged South Africa 2.5 times more for a generic version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine than in the United Kingdom – and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), which aims to promote equitable access to vaccines.
Gavi makes no guarantees to South Africa about the number of doses it will receive, or the delivery date, HJI said, but South Africa remains liable to pay for everything it orders – even if it has to that it would order more doses directly from pharmaceutical companies when Gavi failed to deliver.
The HJI criticized the “harmful nature of pharmaceutical bullying and the heavy-handedness of Gavi”, saying that “the terms and conditions are one-sided and favor multinational corporations”.
It said the “worst example” of this was J&J, which sold supplies under “takeover terms and conditions”. J&J charges South Africa $10 per dose while the EU reportedly pays $8.50, and non-profits pay $7.50.
The HJI said Pfizer had “the same problem” in getting “above the maximum concessions” from South Africa, which had to pay it $40m in advance, half of which was non-refundable. Pfizer also charges $10 a dose, but it pays AU$6.75.
“This is unconscionable, imperial and unethical,” HJI said.
The contracts also stipulate that South Africa must obtain approval from pharmaceutical companies if it wants to donate or sell doses it has already paid for.
“Frankly, in a global pandemic it is paternalistic and imperialist, damaging the public health program and deliberately reducing the autonomy of African states,” said HJI.
It emphasized “respect and fear of pharmaceutical power” and said that a regional and global solution as well as a “legally binding international agreement” are needed to solve the problem before future pandemics.