"The Birth of Big Pharma" by DES Daughter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

WHILE the news of the emergence of a new COVID 19 variant, Omicron, does not bode well for the health of people the world over, pharmaceutical companies must be rubbing their hands in glee.

Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer have already been reaping astronomical rewards due to their monopolies of COVID vaccines. Two of the companies, Moderna and BioNTech, have seen upwards of 69% profit margins, while Moderna and Pfizer are also paying little in taxes.  

Thanks to their patent monopolies for successful vaccines against the coronavirus, development of which was paid for in part by more than $8 billion in public funding from taxpayers, not only in the US, but in Germany and other countries, the three corporations earned more than $26 billion in revenue in the first half of this year, at least two-thirds of it as pure profit in the case of Moderna and BioNTech.

Unexpected bonanza

It is estimated that Moderna has brought in more than $6 billion in revenue this year, $4.3 billion of which is profit, an astronomical 69% profit margin on its vaccines. Moderna expects total vaccine sales of $20 billion in 2021 while at the same time the company is paying little in taxes; it has paid only $322 million in tax in 2021, despite earning billions in profit. 

Moderna and BioNTech have no significant commercial products other than COVID-19 vaccines, so their total profit margins result almost exclusively from the vaccines. While Pfizer does sell multiple products, the COVID vaccine has been an unexpected bonanza for them as well. The vaccine now accounts for more than a third of Pfizer’s overall revenue. The company sold more than $11 billion in COVID vaccines in the first half of this year and is now projecting $33.5 billion in total vaccine sales for 2021. This would make the vaccine one of the top selling pharmaceutical products this year and potentially in the history of the industry. 

Pricing above cost of production

The People’s Vaccine Alliance estimates that the three corporations are also over-charging, pricing vaccines by as much as $41 billion above the estimated cost of production. And while people in the UK, US and other countries are now receiving their booster vaccinations, other, poorer countries, are struggling to provide first doses of the vaccine to their populace.

As Dinah Fuentesfina, Campaigns Manager at ActionAid International, said: “More than 200 million people have been infected during this pandemic, more than 4.5 million people have died, and at least nine new billionaires have been minted thanks to COVID.

This truly is the inequality virus. We create vaccine billionaires but fail to vaccinate billions of people in desperate need.

Dinah Fuentesfina, Campaigns Manager at ActionAid International

“Given the vast public investment in the development of these vaccines and the overwhelming public health need throughout the world, these life-saving vaccines must be global public goods,” she added.

So instead of ensuring all countries have equal access to the vaccines, pharmaceutical companies are again placing profits above people. While the world is in the grip of a global pandemic this is, quite frankly, obscene.

Maaza Seyoum of the African Alliance and the People’s Vaccine Alliance in Africa had this to say: “Rich countries buying up more doses to give third shots to their residents while most countries struggle to provide first doses to their doctors and nurses illustrates the fundamental inequality that has prevailed in our response to COVID thus far.

This unequal status quo is resulting in needless deaths across the globe… all to fatten the wallets for big Pharma executives and corporate investors.

Maaza Seyoum of the African Alliance and the People’s Vaccine Alliance in Africa

“This unequal status quo is resulting in needless deaths across the globe and producing new variants that threaten public health everywhere, all to fatten the wallets for big Pharma executives and corporate investors.” 

With more than four and a half million people dead from the virus, the term ‘making a killing’ has never been more apt or more offensive.

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