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Wariness in Nigeria

When Aisha Isa Yusif heard about the BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, she got scared. Usually, the lawyer and human rights activist is not easily perturbed, but she has not forgotten what happened 25 years ago in Kano, the fourth-largest state in the country.

“When I hear the word Pfizer, I think about the lawsuit that Kano’s state government filed against the pharmaceutical company,” she said. “My homeland wanted compensation for the families who were hurt by Pfizer.”

During the meningitis epidemic in 1996, children in Kano were administered an oral antibiotic called Trovan as part of an operation that was passed off as humanitarian. What none of the participants or their parents knew was that Trovan had not been approved. According to official statistics from the government, 11 children died and more than 200 suffered permanent side effects such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and brain damage. Pfizer initially refused to take responsibility.

Eventually, Pfizer settled out of court with the state of Kano and agreed to pay $75 million in damages. According to WikiLeaks, Pfizer hired private detectives to look for evidence of corruption on the attorney general’s part.

A number of African nations, such as Zimbabwe, have opted for Chinese vaccine from Sinopharm

It is cases such as these that have made the Danish physician Peter C. Gotzsche one of the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest opponents. Though he used to work for the industry, he grew increasingly skeptical and has now written several books in which he shares his misgivings, including Deadly Medicines and Organized Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare.

“They are worse than any other industry,” he said. “Corruption, bribery and the marketing of non-approved drugs are expected.” He said Pfizer has been one of the world’s worst companies in the past 50 years, and can’t understand why the pharma industry is allowed to make so much money in a pandemic: “There should not be any patents for vaccines. They should not be a capitalist commodity but something produced for the general good.”