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Not just indemnity, Pfizer wants disputes over vaccine supply under jurisdiction of US courts only, Indian govt in dilemma

The report stated that there are chances that the government may accept the indemnity clause, but the biggest hurdle is shifting the legal jurisdiction from India to the United States. The official quoted by Economic Times said that such a move will not be accepted by the Parliament.

Two weeks after Pfizer sought waiver against liabilities that may occur out of the adverse effects of its vaccine in India, it has now demanded that disputes over vaccine supplies to the Indian government must be adjudicated in US courts only, reported The Economic Times (ET). Pfizer is marketing its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine across the world, which was developed in collaboration with German biotechnology company BioNTech SE.

The talks between the vaccine manufacturer Pfizer and the Indian government have reached an advanced stage. ET reported that while the government might give in to the demand for ‘indemnity’, it would not relent on giving up its legal jurisdiction. A government official pointed out, “There are two aspects to Pfizer’s demands. First that indemnity waiver, which if given to one company, will be available to domestic companies as well, and second is whether jurisdiction for any dispute be outside India.”

Reportedly, ET informed that the Union government had taken several steps to ensure that Pfizer vaccines are supplied to India. One of them includes an advance payment for procurement of vaccines and that too without guarantees. However, the biggest hurdle is shifting the legal jurisdiction from India to the United States. The official said that such a move will not be accepted/ passed by the Parliament. The official, however, added that the Indian government is currently working around these issues.

Screengrab of the Economic Times report

Several vaccine manyfacturers are now seeking for indemnity clause given that the Coronavirus vaccines are being developed and produced at a rapid pace and the side effects are not fully known. Following the footsteps of Pfizer, the Serum Institute of India (SII) has now also sought indemnity after learning that it might be granted by the Indian government to foreign vaccine manufacturers to enhance vaccine imports. SII is the manufacturers of the Covisheild vaccine (developed by Oxford -AstraZeneca).

Pfizer demands indemnity, won’t transfer technology for local production

Last month, Pfizer had informed that it had no plans to start production in the country. The pharmaceutical company said that it was not in talks with Indian authorities regarding production or technology transfer. As such, Pfizer jabs, if used in India, would be imported from its manufacturing sites in Europe and the United States. This would probably result in higher price of the vaccine in India, due to shipping costs and higher cost of manufacturing in the US and Europe compared to India.

In its defence, the company said that the development, manufacture, distribution, and storage of its mRNA technology-based vaccine needs globally optimised supply. It must be mentioned that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has earlier asked global vaccine manufacturers to share technology with companies in Asian and African countries. This would have helped in increasing local vaccine manufacturing and tide over the vaccine shortage.

The Pfizer vaccine approval in India is stuck over an indemnity clause (agreement wherein one party offers financial compensation for losses or damages caused by another party). Economic Times reported that Pfizer wanted a waiver from liabilities that might occur due to adverse effects of vaccines. It is in line with the company’s stand in dealings with other countries on the vaccine. It was earlier reported that Pfizer had asked several Latin American nations to pledge their sovereign and military assets, including federal reserves and embassies in foreign countries, as indemnity against any future liability.

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