According to a Health Policy Watch story, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) used scarcity during the COVID-19 pandemic as leverage to charge South Africa inflated prices on vaccine doses – a tactic that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has decried as ruthless pharma profiteering.
“It’s difficult to describe J&J’s behavior as anything other than extortion. On the continent with virtually no vaccines at the time and aggressive vaccine hoarding by the Global North, South Africa had no choice but to agree to whatever J&J demanded. Just like with exorbitant HIV drug prices 20 years ago, Africa and its people were again being taken advantage of by pharma companies,” said Terri Ford, AHF Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy. “This must stop! We demonstrated at J&J headquarters in September 2021 for equitable access to vaccines and know-how for low- and middle-income countries, and we will continue to name and shame greedy pharma companies for as long as it takes. We are not going away, and we will not be quiet!”
Following a court-ordered release of secret procurement documents from the South African government to a local NGO, Health Justice Initiative, it became evident that J&J demanded South Africa pay 15% more for its doses than the European Union. Additionally, J&J demanded that it be held free from any liability in cases of adverse vaccine reactions and only provided a vague commitment to delivering the shipments on time and in their entirety.
“The situation in South Africa is the clearest indication yet of why we need a strong Global Public Health Convention based on transparency, accountability, and cooperation. We must set the ground rules now – before a global health disaster happens – so that in a crisis, procurement deals don’t turn into ransom negotiations,” said AHF Africa Bureau Chief Dr. Peninnah Iutung. “At the same time, African countries must stand up to bullying by big pharma and rally behind a united regional approach to transparent, public drug pricing negotiations. As a growing market, the continent has the right and leverage to demand better deals for its citizens.”
According to the same unsealed documents, Pfizer and the Serum Institute of India also charged South Africa more for the same doses than EU countries. As part of the Vaccinate Our World Campaign (VOW) in 2021, AHF staged demonstrations at the headquarters of vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J, demanding access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines and the release of technical know-how for their production in the Global South. To learn more about the campaign, visit https://vaccinateourworld.org/.