Pfizer is a multinational pharmaceutical corporation that has products in almost all pharmacies around the world like Advil, Nexium, Lyrica and many more. Pfizer’s ethical controversies reached a peak in 1996, when an outbreak of meningitis took place in Nigeria, where two hundred children were given medications without their parents’ consent, curing nearly half of them but resulting in the death of 11 and the paralyzation of many. In 2009, Pfizer was accused of criminal and civil liability on the basis of its illegal marketing and promotion of four drugs with the intention of defrauding and misleading the consumer, resulting in the largest health care fraud settlement in history: $2.3 billion.
Medicine and science have yet to develop medications for many curable, incurable and new illnesses and with several dominant leading pharmaceutical corporations, Pfizer being one of them, it is important to ensure the application of ethics and law when it comes to trials and research. However, with such incidents and exploitation taking place, questioning Pfizer’s ethical code becomes a necessity.
Ever since March 11th of 2020 the world has been agitated without rest. Extensive efforts on creating a vaccine to halt the virus that has caused this sudden state of disturbance started. Exactly 9 months after, on the 11th of December 2020, a vaccine was born and the FDA issued an authorization for the emergency use of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and -inevitably- many conspiracy theories and concerns have arisen regarding the vaccine. Nevertheless, with the worsening pandemic situation, vaccination campaigns became the number one priority for all countries. However, unfortunately, some countries were deemed more equal than others and the utopian simultaneous international immunization campaign was hindered due to the low funding of many developing countries. But regardless of funds being low, some developing countries still tried to negotiate purchasing deals with many companies, but only Pfizer has proven itself to be uncooperative.
In two of the world’s most advanced judicial systems, the UK and the USA, revolutionary judicial decisions have been taken; granting Pfizer a time-bound blanket immunity, making it impossible to sue the company in cases of severe side effects in courts of law in both the UK and the USA in the following years. Ben Osborn, the managing director of Pfizer UK, refused to answer questions from the press regarding this one-of-its-kind legal immunity. A reason behind that might be the governmental pressure imposed on Pfizer, and other companies alike, to produce vaccines in record time and in return, the pharmaceutical giant requested immunity from multi-million dollar lawsuits.
The real problem is Pfizer taking advantage of the situation in severely affected developing countries to pursue its own sinister interests. South American countries like Argentina and Brazil were absolutely unable to close purchasing deals with Pfizer even after agreeing on paying in advance for millions of doses; due to Pfizer’s further -distressing- demands of putting sovereign assets, federal bank reserves, military bases and embassies as collateral. Adding to that, they also demanded protection not only against any possible lawsuits in case some citizens experienced adverse side effects after the jab, but also against its own acts of negligence including cases in which the company sends the wrong vaccine by mistake.
Despite warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) in regards to unequal vaccine distribution and even vaccine apartheid. Companies like Pfizer are abusing their powers by requesting to put national security at stake and demanding modifications of law and by creating terms and conditions that would have negative repercussions on the public good. The corporation seems to be taking advantage of the continuously worsening health situation, meddling with people’s lives with aims of maximizing their profits, minimizing any possible losses and avoiding any future legal liability that would arise from the vaccine specifically, and other medications “given by mistake”. With such self-serving conduct, Pfizer is clearly not taking into account that their actions are exacerbating the negative spillovers of this pandemic and even prolonging it. This negation of the medical ethical code to save lives, in the midst of a global crisis when moral consideration is most needed, has proven Pfizer’s moral failure as a pharmaceutical company.
- Al Jazeera: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/11/investigation-pfizer-bullied-latin-american-nations
- The Bureau of Investigative Journalism: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2021-02-23/held-to-ransom-pfizer-demands-governments-gamble-with-state-assets-to-secure-vaccine-deal
- U.S Department of Justice: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-largest-health-care-fraud-settlement-its-history
- U.S National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1471980/