By Peter Andrews, Irish science journalist and writer based in London. He has a background in the life sciences, and graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in genetics.
A senior executive for pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has confirmed that his company cannot face legal action for any potential side effects caused by its Covid vaccine. Those affected will have no legal recourse.
AstraZeneca is one of 25 pharmaceutical companies worldwide already testing their Covid vaccines on humans, in preparation for injecting hundreds of millions of people. These are flush times for Britain’s largest pharmaceutical company, worth something in the order of £70 million. They have just reported bumper profits of $12.6 billion in the last six months alone.
But despite its healthy balance sheet, AstraZeneca is unwilling to be held responsible for any potential side effects of its ‘hopeful’ vaccine candidate. In other words, the company is completely protected, or indemnified, against lawsuits from people who are injected with their vaccine and experience negative effects, regardless of how severe or long-lasting they are.
The firm’s lawyers have demanded that clauses to that effect be put in their contracts with the countries AstraZeneca has agreed to supply with its Covid vaccine. The company says that, without such guarantees of indemnity, they would not be incentivised to produce the drug. And it seems most of the countries have ceded to this demand.
Done in the national interest?
Ruud Dobber, a senior AstraZeneca executive, told Reuters “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’’. For “national interest,” read “government interest.” Whether what is happening is good for the actual people of vaccinated countries is, to put it very mildly, an open question.
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Dobber refused to name the countries which have placed orders for the firm’s vaccine, although many major western democracies are likely to be on the list.