Big Pharma Co. Gets Immunity from COVID Vaccine Liability: ‘We as a Company Simply Cannot Take the Risk’

By Jack Davis

If side effects develop from the COVID-19 vaccine being created by British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, they don’t plan to pay for it.

The company, which is one of about two dozen trying to develop a vaccine against the disease, revealed on Thursday, that even before the vaccine gets to market, most of the countries where it would supply the drug have agreed to protect the company from liability, according to Reuters.

“This is a unique situation where we as a company simply cannot take the risk if in … four years the vaccine is showing side effects,” Ruud Dobber, part of AstraZeneca’s senior executive team, said.

“In the contracts we have in place, we are asking for indemnification. For most countries it is acceptable to take that risk on their shoulders because it is in their national interest,” he said.

Reuters reported that European Union nations and drug companies such as Pfizer, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson were finding that liability protection an issue.

Dobber did not name the nations that have agreed to protect AstraZeneca from liability.

In the United States, the company is already protected under the 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.

The act started in February when a declaration from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was published in the Federal Register.

The act is in effect until October 1, 2024, but can be amended and renewed as necessary.

In guidance about the law posted on its website, the Congressional Research Service notes that the PREP Act “authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to limit legal liability for losses relating to the administration of medical countermeasures such as diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.”

The act does not cover cases that involve death or serious injury due to willful misconduct.

In agreements it has made with the U.S., Britain and other countries, AstraZeneca has promised to supply more than 2 billion doses of the vaccine it develops at no profit.

The company is allowing the U.S. to examine its books to prove that its $1.2 billion deal with the U.S. does not include profit, Dobber said, according to Reuters.

“There are very clear milestones before they are going to pay. Because we made the promise to manufacture the vaccine at no profit, auditors of the U.S. administration will get free access to our accounting books,” he said.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said last month that he was cautious about the company’s ongoing drug trials, according to ABC News.

“If we have learned one thing with this virus, it is that it is unpredictable,’’ he said. “And so we need to remain cautious.”

In speaking of the company’s promise not to profit from its 2 billion doses, he added, “We felt, there [is] a time in life when companies need to step up and make a contribution.’’

“This is the kind of time in history when … humankind is really threatened as a whole.”

AstraZeneca’s deal includes agreements with Russia and Korea, ABC News reported.

“We want to cover the whole world,” Soriot said, “so everyone can get access to this vaccine.”

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