According to a person familiar with the matter, drugmakers supplying South Africa with COVID-19 vaccines are pressing the country to stop trying to loosen patent protections related to the inoculations, reported Bloomberg.
The tension is manifesting itself in disputes between the South African government and Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer over terms in their supply contracts, the person said. The arguments have slowed the arrival of vaccines in a country that has yet to start a wide rollout of inoculations, according to the news source.
South Africa and India are calling for a broad waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on the production and export of vaccines and other medical goods needed to combat SARS-CoV-2, a move that could increase access to treatment for developing countries.
While the provisions in the WTO's rules around intellectual property were meant to remove such protections during emergencies, some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies are concerned it could erode future profits.
South African health minister Zweli Mkhize told parliament that Johnson & Johnson would not sign off on a vaccine order agreed last month until it receives greater assurance of support from the state, saying the terms insisted on by the companies were at times "unreasonable."
Meanwhile, Pfizer demanded that South Africa's health and finance ministers personally sign a supply contract to give force to an indemnity clause, according to a letter seen by Bloomberg.