An investigation conducted by the Health Justice Initiative (HJI) has revealed that South Africa’s procurement of Covid-19 vaccines involved purchasing supplies at inflated prices compared to many Western nations. The HJI, an independent body formed during the pandemic to monitor the country’s healthcare system’s response to the crisis, described the government’s dealings with global pharmaceutical companies as “bullied” into accepting unfavorable vaccine deals through one-sided “ransom negotiations.”
According to the HJI, the vaccine contracts contained unusually demanding and secretive terms, lacking transparency and providing little leverage against late or non-delivery of supplies or inflated prices. Consequently, this system resulted in gross profiteering by pharmaceutical companies and an inability to effectively plan amidst a pandemic.
The terms agreed upon by the South African government with pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson were recently the subject of a legal challenge by the HJI under the country’s Promotion of Access to Information Act. The HJI argued that these agreements were not in the best interest of the public and sought greater transparency and accountability.
Following a Pretoria court ruling in favor of the HJI, the South African government was compelled to release the vaccine contracts. These documents revealed that the country was liable for vaccine payments amounting to $734 million. Shockingly, the agreements provided no guarantees of timely delivery or penalties for late arrivals. Additionally, it was discovered that Johnson & Johnson charged South Africa $10 per dose of its vaccine, which was $1.50 more than what EU countries paid.
The HJI further highlighted that South Africa was forced to overpay for vaccines, paying 33% more than the African Union price for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and 2.5 times more to the Serum Institute of India for a generic version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine compared to the United Kingdom. These exorbitant prices demonstrate the exploitation of the country during a time of crisis.
The HJI expressed concerns about the government’s practices throughout the pandemic, stating that they set a dangerous precedent for future pandemic readiness. They argued that the country was bullied into accepting unfair and undemocratic terms in contracts that heavily favored pharmaceutical companies. This imbalance ultimately resulted in the companies holding South Africa to ransom.
Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa has recorded 102,595 Covid-19 related deaths. As of May 2023, approximately 65% of South Africans have received a vaccine against the virus. However, the revelations of the HJI’s investigation have raised serious questions about the fairness and integrity of the vaccine procurement process.
The findings of this report shed light on the concerning practices employed by Big Pharma in their dealings with South Africa during the pandemic. It emphasizes the need for greater transparency, accountability, and equity in vaccine procurement to ensure fair access to lifesaving treatments for all nations, regardless of their economic power or geopolitical status. The exploitation of vulnerable countries during times of crisis must be addressed to prevent future episodes of gross profiteering and injustice.