SA bullied in Covid-19 vaccine deals - report reveals

GrandWest. Friday 27.08.2021. The Phizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is an mRNA vaccine that requires 2 shots, 21 days appart. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

GrandWest. Friday 27.08.2021. The Phizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is an mRNA vaccine that requires 2 shots, 21 days appart. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Published Sep 7, 2023


Johannesburg - A multi-stakeholder group led by the Health Justice Initiative (HJI) has found that in all four Covid-19 vaccine contracts and agreements bullying and heavy-handedness was involved, with terms and conditions that were overwhelmingly one-sided and favoured multinational pharmaceutical corporations.

The group said the contracts revealed punitive, one-sided conditions, so that South Africa was forced to hand over sovereignty, with none of the contracts agreed under South African legal jurisdiction.

“South Africa was liable for payments of at least $734 million, including advance payments of almost $95 million, with no guarantees of timely delivery,” it said.

“The country was forced to overpay for vaccines, paying 33% more than the African Union price for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and paying the Serum Institute of India 2.5 times more for a generic version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine compared to the United Kingdom.”

The group analysed all the documents handed over to HJI since August 31 this year and found that the agreements placed people and governments in the Global South in the unenviable position of having to secure scarce supplies in a global emergency, from 2020 to 2022, with unusually hefty demands and conditions, including secrecy, a lack of transparency, and very little leverage against late or no delivery of supplies or inflated prices, resulting in gross profiteering.

“Moreover, SA’s sovereignty was bartered for scarce supplies. This should never happen again. It is unconscionable, imperial, and unethical,” the group said.

“The group’s analysis sets out why this type of ‘take it or leave it’ contracting signals a dangerous precedent for future pandemic readiness measures and systems and why this level of bullying, secrecy, and lack of transparency has no place in any democracy.”

The director of HJI, Fatima Hassan, said deference to and fear of powerful pharmaceutical companies – in the middle of a crisis and in a constitutional democracy – were concerning. It showed how much power was put into the hands of private sector actors and how few options governments had, when acting alone, in the middle of a pandemic.

“The contracts reveal the phenomenal power that pharmaceutical companies wielded in negotiations. In our scramble for desperately needed vaccines, South Africa was forced to hand over unimaginable sums of money for overpriced vaccine doses. We were bullied into accepting unfair and undemocratic terms in contracts that were totally one-sided. Put simply, pharmaceutical companies held us to ransom. And we must ask: did they do it to other countries too?” Hassan said.

The group said this should be of deep concern to the global public health community.

They highlighted that this was not a problem that could be solved by a single government, it required a regional and global solution and the exercise of state sovereignty.

“Unless acted upon with a clear, legally binding international agreement, we will arrive at the next pandemic with little more to enforce fair terms than platitudes and scathing press statements from the minister and president in SA and other world leaders in the Global South. This must be deliberated upon in the Pandemic Accord Negotiations and revisions of the International Health Regulations currently under way and at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly,” added the group.

The Star