Following months of discussions, Pfizer said on 8 June 2021 that the company could not sell COVID-19 vaccines to Argentina, citing incompatibilities with the country’s legal framework. The comments were made following a meeting with the Chamber of Deputies attended by all companies with which the government had signed or intended to sign vaccine supply contracts. What exactly is the problem?
Throughout 2020, Argentinean government officials met with Pfizer representatives more than eight times on the topic of its COVID-19 vaccine but have failed to reach an agreement. Nicolás Vaquer, president of Pfizer Argentina affirmed that the company had been negotiating the sale of 13.2 million vaccines since December 2020. The negotiations are confidential but our local sources had some idea of what may be the most significant barriers.
The CEO of an Argentinian pharmaceutical company gave us his opinion, “I believe that the government wanted every purchased vaccine to have a local counterpart, as it was agreed with AstraZeneca (using Hugo Sigman as the local counterpart), Pfizer obviously didn’t agree. I also heard that Pfizer did not accept the wording of the law enacted in the government that included the limitation of liability for negligence. The government has stated that, unless requested by the opposition, it will not change the law. And in that case, it will be difficult to reach an agreement.”
“I believe that the government wanted every purchased vaccine to have a local counterpart, as it was agreed with AstraZeneca.”
CEO, pharmaceutical company, Argentina
Last year, the National Congress passed a law that regulates purchases of COVID-19 vaccines by the government, the final wording of which removed the immunity for negligence that was previously agreed. According to those closest to the issue, Pfizer was the only company that had requested such a clause in its contract.
An Argentinian management consultant in the pharmaceutical sector also felt that this was the straw that broke the camels back, “When the Chamber of Deputies modified the Bill sent by the Executive Power, to regulate the purchase of vaccines, and withdrew a clause that granted immunity to companies in cases of negligence, the situation turned upside down. Pfizer will never accept this. The Russians and the Chinese don’t care because they will never admit negligence and AstraZeneca works through a local partner who is politically well-connected.”
“When the Chamber of Deputies modified the Bill […] to regulate the purchase of vaccines, and withdrew a clause that granted immunity to companies in cases of negligence, the situation turned upside down.”
Pharmaceutical management consultant, Argentina
The reasons behind the last-minute change to the law are unknown and also if that is the only reason why an agreement was not reached. One rumour was that Pfizer could not guarantee delivery of a sufficient number of doses, however, Karina Banfi, an opposition member of Parliament, argued, “Pfizer agreed to sell [at least] eight million vaccines. It has delivered throughout the world, despite some delays, which means that, at present, we could have an additional eight million people vaccinated.” Another rumour, which Nicolás Vaquer, Pfizer’s head of Argentina, was forced to deny, centred around allegations, again put forward by the opposition, that government officials were requesting bribes to unlock the negotiations.
For its part, the government argues that Pfizer made unacceptable demands such as extension of national jurisdiction, patrimonial indemnity, and a number of confidentiality requests. Pfizer has not revealed details of the disagreement and said that it is still in talks with the government.
What is the likely outcome of the negotiations? The management consultant was not certain that any agreement would ever be reached, “As for how it will unlock, I wouldn’t be so sure that it will unlock. If Argentina obtains vaccines from other laboratories, as is happening and not only those manufactured in Russia or China, it will lose interest in Pfizer. And the truth is that for Pfizer it is not life or death to sell to Argentina.”
“As for how it [the negotiation] will unlock, I wouldn’t be so sure that it will unlock.”
Pharmaceutical management consultant, Argentina
The pharmaceutical executive had more optimism, “As for the future of the negotiation, the government is confident of a good outcome. There are several efforts underway, including one that is about to be initiated by the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Sergio Massa, in the USA. It is difficult to predict. But Pfizer is beginning to see that some markets are going to be saturated, and others are going to need their vaccines, including Argentina. Perhaps mutual needs end up bringing the parties closer together.”