As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to strengthen its grip on South America, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer stands accused of bullying smaller Latin American governments into putting up sovereign assets as a type of collateral against the cost of any possible legal cases in the future. Madlen Davies, Rosa Furneaux, Iván Ruiz, and Jill Langlois from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) reported that Pfizer has essentially held Latin American governments to ransom for access to their lifesaving vaccine. By putting more stress on Latin American governments financially, along with the impending threat of the virus, Pfizer seems to be doing more harm than the good it should be doing.
As discussed in the BIJ report, officials from Argentina and another unnamed Latin American country have stated that Pfizer’s negotiators demanded legal immunity from any civil claims that could be filed by a citizen who experiences adverse effects to the vaccine. Regardless, officials from the unnamed country still had much to say on the negotiations, calling Pfizer’s demands “high-level bullying.” In their negotiations with Argentina and Brazil, Pfizer had asked that sovereign assets, such as military bases and embassy buildings, be used as collateral for any legal cost that could come in the future. While this is a fairly typical practice from pharmaceutical companies who administer vaccines during an epidemic, government officials in these Latin American countries feel that Pfizer’s demands have gone far beyond that of other vaccine companies. Pfizer’s demands would include legal immunity for its own acts of negligence, fraud, or malice. This would mean if Pfizer makes errors in the vaccine, they would not be held accountable.
When Argentinian President Alberto Fernández began negotiations with Pfizer Argentina’s CEO in June of 2020, a new law had to be passed through Argentina’s Congress to be able to meet Pfizer’s demand for indemnity. The Argentinian government believes that Pfizer should be held accountable for any acts of malice or negligence, and instead of making a compromise, Pfizer continued to demand for more: “In addition to the changes in the new law, it [Pfizer] asked Argentina to take out international insurance to pay for potential future cases against the company.” Failed negotiations between the country of Argentina and Pfizer would mean that Argentinian citizens would not have access to Pfizer’s vaccine unlike their neighboring countries who have come to an agreement with Pfizer.
Pfizer’s dealings in South America are not exactly secret, yet corporate media outlets have either failed or refused to cover what Pfizer is demanding from these less financially secure countries. In December 2020, CNBC published an article about how US citizens will not be able to sue Pfizer or Moderna if they end up having severe side effects from their Covid vaccine. They describe how both these companies received legal immunity from the United States, but make no mention of the methods Pfizer is applying to get that same legal immunity from South American countries. As of March 25, 2021, there has been no corporate media coverage of Pfizer’s actual dealings in South America. Currently, Pfizer is seen as America’s savior, a light at the end of a dark tunnel that the Coronavirus has plunged the world into. The failure of corporate media to report on this story maintains the appearance of Pfizer as the story’s hero. It allows the American people to continue believing that Pfizer is out to save the world. As long as the world that Pfizer is saving is theirs, what does it matter what they do elsewhere?
Source: Malden Davies, Rosa Furneaux, Iván Ruiz, Jill Langlois, “Held to Ransom’: Pfizer Demands Governments Gamble with State Assets to Secure Vaccine Deal,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, February 23 2021, https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2021-02-23/held-to-ransom-pfizer-demands-governments-gamble-with-state-assets-to-secure-vaccine-deal.
Student Researchers: Ryan Jackson, Mohammad Haider, and John Deery (Queens College, City University of New York)
Faculty Evaluator: Roopali Mukherjee (Queens College, City University of New York)