he non-profit organization Health Justice Initiative has unveiled Covid-19 vaccination contracts that shed light on how the South African government was compelled to pay exorbitant prices compared to wealthier nations like the United Kingdom for essential vaccines. These contracts, including agreements with pharmaceutical giants Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Covax, and the Serum Institute of India, were made public for the first time after Health Justice Initiative secured access through a court order in August.
The unveiled contracts reveal a disconcerting picture of how pharmaceutical corporations insisted on indemnity clauses, demanded double the prices charged to Western countries, coerced the government into setting up vaccine injury compensation funds on their terms, and imposed sweeping waivers that left governments vulnerable.
Fatima Hassan, the founder and director of Health Justice Initiative, emphasized the importance of this revelation, stating that the government’s decision not to appeal the court order signals that transparency cannot be compromised in South Africa’s healthcare sector. She asserted that such secrecy has no place in health or any other domain and called for global action to address pharmaceutical companies’ bullying of governments.
This exposé also highlights concerns about pharmaceutical companies in other regions, such as Latin America, demanding sovereign assets like control of bank accounts and state buildings as collateral in their Covid-19 vaccine agreements.
Hassan emphasized the need for governments in the Global South to take proactive steps to prevent such bullying tactics in future pandemics. She commended South Africa’s response to pressure regarding State assets and its swift action to establish a vaccine injury compensation fund.
However, critics like Jay Kruuse, director of the Public Service Accountability Monitor of South Africa, pointed out discrepancies in vaccine prices. South Africa paid $10 per dose for Johnson and Johnson, while the company stated it charged between $5 to $8 per dose in a July 2021 Reuters report.
Professor Mathew Herder, a director at the Health Law Institute at Dalhousie University in Canada, revealed Pfizer’s stringent confidentiality and indemnity clauses, limiting South Africa’s ability to share doses with neighboring countries without Pfizer’s consent.
Professor Brook Baker from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston raised concerns about Covax deals, where wealthier nations secured lower prices for vaccines compared to developing countries. South Africa received only a fraction of the promised vaccine doses.
Nick Dearden, director of Justice Now UK, stressed the importance of transparency in pharmaceutical contracts and called for lessons to be learned from this experience for future pandemics.
In response, Janssen Pharmaceutica, the company behind the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, stated that South Africa paid the same per instance as all global partners, at $7.50 per dose, highlighting their support for vaccine distribution to low- and middle-income countries.
This exposé serves as a stark reminder of the need for fairness, transparency, and global cooperation in securing life-saving vaccines during health crises.