While the world economy remains frozen, the soaring shares of vaccine makers has created a new wave of billionaires. Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have paid out $26 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to their shareholders in the past 12 months, according to Oxfam.
The founder of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, is now worth $5.9 billion and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel $5.2 billion. Bancel has cashed out more than $142 million in Moderna stock since Covid-19 struck, the charity said. 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.
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, despite the international backlash against the de facto privatisation of successful COVID-19 vaccines.
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 is growing.
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.
“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.”
The African Alliance’s Maaza Seyoum, who is leading the People’s Vaccine Alliance’s Africa efforts said “Big business as usual will not end this pandemic. This is clearer now more than ever.”
“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.” said Heidi Chow, Senior Campaigns and Policy Manager at Global Justice Now.
Pharmaceutical giants shell out billions to shareholders
Meanwhile, many countries, including the U.S. handed the decision-making mantle to so-called public health “experts” regarding “COVID management.” Steve Deace, author of Amazon bestseller “Faucian Bargain: The Most Powerful and Dangerous Bureaucrat in American History”, argues that unaccountable bureaucrats, “experts” with vested interests in prospering from our dismay cannot be the basis of our decisions in facing pathogens and challenges.
Deace, writes, “the lockdowns were the dumbest management decision in human history.” He also fears we now live under siege by an army of “Faucis” and whosoever controls the dissemination of information—true or false—ultimately controls all.
Moderna, Pfizer/BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Oxford/AstraZeneca received billions in public funding and guaranteed pre-orders, including $12 billion from the US government alone. They also made use of many years of publicly funded research and discoveries, as per Oxfam.
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, Oxfam said. “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 $2 a dose.”
Meanwhile, the World Bank is warning of a “truly unprecedented increase” in levels of poverty this year. In January the institution updated its forecast for the expected number of newly impoverished people this year from between 88 and 115 million to the new range of between 119 and 124 million. The International Labour Organization (ILO) said global workers lost $3.7tn in earnings during the pandemic. COVID-19 has presented many new social and economic challenges, and is exacerbating already existing ones.