Oxfam in Bangladesh has said global pharmaceutical giants have made huge profits in the last 12 months as the world is confronted with vaccine apartheid.
Ahead of shareholder meetings for the giant pharmaceutical corporations, the People’s Vaccine Alliance calculated that Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have paid out $26 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to their shareholders in the past 12 months.The shareholder meetings began on Thursday with Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson followed by Moderna and Astra Zeneca in the coming weeks. Protests are expected outside the meetings in the US and the UK while investors inside the meetings will be presenting resolutions to expand vaccine access.
There is a growing backlash against the de facto privatisation of successful Covid-19 vaccines and pressure on the pharma firms to openly license the intellectual property and share the technology and know-how with qualified vaccine producers across the world, said a press release of Oxfam in Bangladesh on Friday.
While the global economy remains frozen due to the slow and uneven vaccine rollout worldwide, the soaring shares of vaccine makers has created a new wave of billionaires. The founder of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, is now worth $5.9 billion and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel $5.2 billion.
According to regulatory filings, Bancel has cashed out more than $142 million in Moderna stock since the pandemic began. Many other investors have also become billionaires in the last few months, while the International Chamber of Commerce projects a worst-case GDP loss of $9 trillion due to global vaccine inequity.
“This is a public health emergency, not a private profit opportunity,” said Oxfam Health Policy Manager Anna Marriott. “We should not be letting corporations decide who lives and who dies while boosting their profits. We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine.”
‘Vaccine apartheid is not a natural phenomenon but the result of governments stepping back and allowing corporations to call the shots. Instead of creating new vaccine billionaires we need to be vaccinating billions in developing countries. It is appalling thatBig Pharma is making huge pay-outs to wealthy shareholders in the face of this global health emergency,” Marriott said.
While one in four citizens of rich nations have had a vaccine, just one in 500 people in poorer countries have done so, meaning the death toll continues to climb as the virus remains out of control. One of the reasons Pharma companies have been able to generate such large profits is because of intellectual property rules that restrict production to a handful of companies.
Last week, 175 former heads of state and Nobel Prize winners, including Gordon Brown, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Francoise Hollande wrote to President Biden to support the temporary waiving of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to enable the rapid scale up of vaccine production across the world.
They join the 1.5 million people in the US and other nations who have signalled their support for a Peoples Vaccine.
Over 100 low-and middle-income nations, led by India and South Africa, are calling at the World Trade Organisation for a waiver of intellectual property protections on Covid-19 products during the pandemic, a move so far opposed by the US, EU and other rich nations.
Moderna, Pfizer/BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson, Novovax and Oxford/AstraZeneca received billions in public funding and guaranteed pre-orders, including $12 billion from the US government alone.
Researchers for Universities Allied for Essential Medicines found that only percent of the R&D costs to develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and its underlying technology was privately funded.
AstraZeneca is producing and supplying the vaccine at no profit during the pandemic.
“These vaccines were funded by public money and are desperately needed worldwide if we are to end this pandemic,” said Heidi Chow, Senior Campaigns and Policy Manager at Global Justice Now. “It’s morally bankrupt for rich country leaders to allow a small group of corporations to keep the vaccine technology and know-how under lock and key while selling their limited doses to the highest bidder.”
Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s successful mRNA vaccines are set to become two of the three bestselling pharmaceutical products in the world. The companies are projecting revenues of $33.5 billion in 2021 from their vaccines.
Their vaccines are also the most expensive, ranging from $13.50 to $74 per course, with both firms looking to increase prices. In an investor call, Pfizer cited between $150 and $170 a dose as the typical price it receives for vaccines. This is despite a study from the Imperial College in London showing that the cost of production of new mRNA vaccines could be between 60 cents and US $2 a dose.
The two firms have also sold the vast majority of their doses to rich nations. Moderna has so far allotted 97 percent of their vaccines to wealthy countries and Pfizer 85 percent. Co-developed with the US Government’s National Institutes of Health, Moderna’s vaccine is likely to make $5 billion in profits in 2021. The company received $5.45 billion in public subsidy.