Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach sues Pfizer over marketing of COVID-19 vaccine

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Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach sues Pfizer over marketing of COVID-19 vaccine
Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach announces he is suing Pfizer during a June 17, 2024, news conference at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Attorney General Kris Kobach filed a civil lawsuit Monday against pharmaceutical company Pfizer, alleging that “Pfizer misled the public that it had a ‘safe and effective’ COVID-19 vaccine,” violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act. 

The state seeks “civil monetary penalties, damages, and injunctive relief from misleading and deceptive statements made in marketing its COVID-19 vaccine,” Kobach said. 

In the complaint, Kobach alleges that Pfizer willfully concealed, suppressed and omitted material facts relating to the COVID-19 vaccine, the “most egregious” ones regarding safety of the vaccine for pregnant people, in regard to heart conditions, its effectiveness against variants and its ability to stop transmission. 

“Pfizer marketed its vaccine as safe for pregnant women,” Kobach said. “However, in February of 2021 (they) possessed reports of 458 pregnant women who received Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy. More than half of the pregnant women reported an adverse event, and more than 10% reported a miscarriage.” 

The percentage of “adverse events” — which is a term that means any negative reaction — was higher in pregnant women than the general population by roughly 17 percent, according to a study published in the journal Medicine in February 2022. 

An earlier study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April 2021 offered preliminary findings that did not show any significant safety concerns among pregnant individuals who received the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, indicating that observed miscarriages were not unusual and likely not a direct result of the vaccine. 

Kobach says that Pfizer marketed the vaccine as safe in terms of heart conditions such as myocarditis and pericarditis. He referenced a question Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO was asked in January 2023 of if the vaccine caused severe myocarditis, to which Bourla responded “we have not seen a single signal, although we have distributed billions of doses.” 

“However, as Pfizer knew, the United States Government, the United States Military foreign governments and others have found that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine caused myocarditis and pericarditis,” Kobach said.

According to the CDC, cases of myocarditis and pericarditis caused by the COVID-19 vaccine are rare, and most patients experienced resolution of symptoms by hospital discharge. 

Kobach says Pfizer marketed its vaccine as effective against COVID-19 variants, “even though data available at the time showed Pfizer’s vaccine was effective less than half the time.”

His final allegation in the complaint was that the company falsely marketed the vaccine as preventing transmission. 

“Pfizer urged Americans to get vaccinated in order to protect their loved ones, clearly indicating a claim that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination stopped transmission,” Kobach said. “Pfizer later admitted that they’ve never even studied transmission after the recipients receive the vaccine.”

In a statement, Pfizer said its COVID-19 vaccine saved countless lives and that the company’s claims about the vaccine were accurate and based on science.

“The company believes that the state’s case has no merit and will respond to the suit in due course,” the statement said. “Pfizer is deeply committed to the well-being of the patients it serves and has no higher priority than ensuring the safety and effectiveness of its treatments and vaccines.”

Kansas is the first state to file such a lawsuit, though Kobach says five other states will be joining. They will make announcements independently. The only other confirmed state is Idaho. 

“More suits may follow, depending on Pfizer’s reaction,” Kobach said. 

In 2023, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Pfizer for “unlawfully misrepresenting the effectiveness of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine and attempting to censor public discussion of the product.” That suit was also based on the state’s Consumer Protection Act. 

The case is filed in Thomas County. Kobach says this is because they wanted to go to a place with a lighter workload, to make sure they had the time to deal with it. 

When asked if he’d received the Pfizer vaccine, Kobach declined to answer. “I think whether I’ve received the vaccination is irrelevant to the lawsuit, it’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the statements that were made to the people of Kansas.”