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Big pharma and vaccines: “one of the most lethal cases of profiteering in history”

John Bell

August 1, 2021

According to The People’s Vaccine Alliance, multinational drug companies Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca have rewarded shareholders with $26 billion in dividends and stock buy-backs in the last year of pandemic emergency.

One of the results is lack of affordable vaccines for all but the richest nations. This amounts to “vaccine apartheid”. According to Oxfam Health Policy Manager Anna Marriott: “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 that Big Pharma is making huge pay-outs to wealthy shareholders in the face of this global health emergency.”

Global health inequity is largely due to “intellectual property” legislation enshrined in decades of neo-liberal trade treaties, like NAFTA, all favouring corporations. Right-wingers brush aside reports of murderous global health inequity, saying corporations need their profits to cover the costs of research and development. In fact Big Pharma rakes in public funding and free access to academic research.

For example, the Moderna vaccine development was funded by a billion dollars from BARDA, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

According to Peter Maybarduk, director of the Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program, “It is not merely Moderna’s vaccine. Federal scientists helped invent it and taxpayers are funding its development. We all have played a role. It should belong to humanity.”

Together Pfizer and Moderna are charging governments an estimated $41 billion over and above the cost of production. Poor countries are being bled dry.

“Pharmaceutical companies are holding the world to ransom at a time of unprecedented global crisis,” says Oxfam’s Marriott. “This is perhaps one of the most lethal cases of profiteering in history.”

Rich countries like Canada try to cover-up their complicity by donating money and unwanted vaccines (like the AstraZeneca formula) to Covax, administered by the World Health Organization. The WHO's track record during the pandemic has exposed it as a political lapdog rather than a public health watchdog.

Through Covax, even more public funding finds its way into corporate pockets. Because it buys vaccines at monopoly prices, roughly 5 times more than the cost of production, it is providing vaccine aid to developing nations at a glacial pace. People’s Vaccine analysts estimate that at best Covax will reach only 23% of its target population by the end of 2021.

This is what vaccine apartheid looks like.

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