Ukraine Ended Secret Government Spending. Vaccine Makers Now Demand It.

KYIV, Ukraine — After a revolution seven years ago, Ukrainians discovered that their ousted president had used public money to build himself a gigantic palace with a private zoo, a golf course and a garage full of antique cars.

To prevent such corruption in the future, a raft of reforms were put in place including a requirement that nearly all government contracts be made public, lest secret kickbacks slip into the pockets of high-ranking officials.

The overhaul, widely seen as a rare success in the country’s otherwise halting anticorruption drive, covered tens of millions of dollars in annual medical procurement deals.

But to secure vaccine supplies, Ukraine has been forced to largely abandon the rule — a move that the government says is not its choice as much as the demand of the pharmaceutical giants that control the supply.

In negotiating with national governments, drug companies including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have insisted that many of the terms of the deals amount to trade secrets and must be kept confidential.

Health advocacy groups have roundly criticized those arrangements and said that governments far better positioned than Ukraine to spend vast sums on doses have been too willing to accept such secrecy.

The requirement has hamstrung the Ukrainian government and forced one state-owned procurement company set up to prevent graft in the medical system to be sidelined because it was required by law to disclose the terms of all contracts.

“This is due to extremely strict privacy rules and nondisclosure policies, which the procurement company will not be able to comply with under Ukrainian law,” Svitlana Shatalova, Ukrainian deputy minister of health, said at a news conference on Thursday.

The nondisclosure agreements allow the pharmaceutical companies to negotiate prices, delivery timelines and other conditions for vaccine deals without governments or their citizens comparing the agreements to those struck with other nations.

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