NGO Sues US over Warp Speed Contract Secrecy

18.10.2020 - NGO Public Citizen has filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), seeking to force disclosure of the terms of contracts worth billions of dollar that have been awarded to drugmakers for Covid-19 vaccine development and manufacturing.

In the lawsuit, Public Citizen challenges HHS’s withholding of records it requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) related to Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s task force to accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines.

According to the citizens’ watchdog, Operation Warp Speed, which is co-administrated by HHS, has handed out more than $10 billion to pharmaceutical producers, but the terms of the contracts with companies such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer and Regeneron have been kept secret.

Public Citizen says its key questions pertain to pricing and public access to information. For example, it wants to know whether drugmakers will be required to charge a “reasonable price” for their products, “or will they be free to profiteer, despite the public’s massive investment?”

Additionally, will taxpayer-funded technology be held as corporate secrets, or can the government share technology with the World Health Organization to advance scientific research, accelerate manufacturing and more quickly end the global pandemic?

Finally, the lawsuit asks, what rights does the government maintain in the production facilities it is helping to finance?  

“The success, failure and terms of Warp Speed projects may determine when and under what conditions people living in the US receive a safe and effective vaccine,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program.

“Taxpayers deserve to know what they are getting in return for their billions of dollars in investments. Health experts should be able to assess whether our government is doing everything possible to end the pandemic,” he added.