A vial and sryinge are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration. Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
A vial and sryinge are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration. Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

Pfizer is demanding that SA’s health and finance ministers personally sign a Covid-19 vaccine-supply agreement so that it is indemnified from any claims made against it in the country regarding the shot.

The demand is contained in a March 24 letter from health minister Zweli Mkhize to his finance counterpart Tito Mboweni, seen by Bloomberg and confirmed by the National Treasury.

Pfizer was not satisfied by assurances that the signature of the country’s health director-general was sufficient to guarantee the indemnity, Mkhize said.

The demand threatens to further delay the rollout of SA’s vaccine programme, which is lagging behind that of emerging-market peers and a number of African countries, and increases pressure on the government.

The agreement is for the supply of 20-million doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech.

The ministerial signatures will give Pfizer the “assurance that the terms of the indemnity clause are acknowledged by government and, as such, any liability that may be established will be covered by the fiscus”, Mkhize wrote.

“You will no doubt agree with me that there is mounting pressure and we can no longer justify publicly any further delays.”

Pfizer did not immediately respond to e-mailed queries and Mkhize’s spokesperson declined to comment.

The National Treasury said in response to a query that discussions about the signing of agreements were continuing and confirmed receipt of the letter.

The demand was the last Pfizer would make and, once signed, vaccines would begin to arrive within two weeks, Mkhize said.

With more than 1.5-million recorded infections and almost 53,000 deaths, SA is the worst-affected country by the coronavirus on the continent.

So far only 231,605 people have been vaccinated as part of a study using Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J’s) vaccine while a wider vaccination programme is yet to begin.

The government has said an initial target to vaccinate 40-million people this year will be missed.

On March 26 News24 said larger deliveries of J&J’s shots would be delayed because the government had not signed a no-fault compensation clause, citing people it did not identify. Anban Pillay, a deputy director-general in the health department, told Bloomberg there were no delays without giving further information.


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