New billionaires profit from vaccines while poorer countries suffer without them

A scientist holding a vaccine vial
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The profits from coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccines have created nine new billionaires, as rich countries are urged to take steps to ensure equitable vaccine access.

According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, the heads of some pharmaceutical corporations have made enough money off vaccines to become billionaires.

The nine new billionaires have a net worth of $19.3bn between them. This is reportedly enough to vaccinate everyone in lower-income countries.

Following this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said we are at a global “turning point” as it urged the world to make sure poorer countries get the vaccines they need.

“Massive profits”

Eight existing billionaires have also seen their combined net worth increase by $32.2bn.

The list of new billionaires includes the CEO of Moderna, two of Moderna’s founding investors, the company’s chair, and the CEO of a company who made a deal to manufacture the Moderna vaccine.

This is despite most of Moderna’s funding coming from taxpayers.

Read on...

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, said:

What a testament to our collective failure to control this cruel disease that we quickly create new vaccine billionaires but totally fail to vaccinate the billions who desperately need to feel safe.

These billionaires are the human face of the huge profits many pharmaceutical corporations are making from the monopoly they hold on these vaccines. These vaccines were funded by public money and should be first and foremost a global public good, not a private profit opportunity. We need to urgently end these monopolies so that we can scale up vaccine production, drive down prices and vaccinate the world.

Global vaccine inequality

Meanwhile, the shortage in doses means people living in low-income countries have received only 0.2% of the global vaccine supply.

Covax, the international programme to get vaccines to poorer countries is 140m short of the vaccines it needs.

Humanitarian and faith leaders from the WHO, UNICEF and more have today called on world leaders to ensure equitable access to vaccines globally. The signatories of the letter urge countries to support poorer nations with funding and technical knowledge to give them the tools to vaccinate their citizens.

The letter reads:

We are at a turning point. COVID-19 has been a truly global crisis in which we all have shouldered a burden. In many cases this has caused us to reflect on those longer injustices that have perpetuated in parts of the world where the pandemic is yet another layer of misery, instability and unrest. These inequalities have been exposed and exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic, both between and within countries. The effects will be felt on a global scale for years to come. …

We need to build a world where each community, regardless of where they live, or who they are, has urgent access to vaccinations: not just for COVID-19, but also for the many other diseases that continue to harm and kill. As the pandemic has shown us, in our interdependent world no one is safe until everyone is safe.

We have a choice: vaccine nationalism or human solidarity.

Waiving vaccine patents

450 campaigners from a variety of organisations and backgrounds have been urging Boris Johnson to waive vaccine patents, which would allow vaccine production to be scaled up across the world.

Earlier in May, India asked other countries to support a waiver as its case numbers climbed.

President Biden announced the US would support a waiver to help bring vaccine doses to poorer countries.

The UK and other European countries have faced increasing pressure to follow suit. According to the Guardian, the UK was in talks “about a plan to waive Covid-19 vaccine patents” as of 20 May.

At the time of the letter Elizabeth Baines, Campaign Organiser at Just Treatment, said:

Covid-19 vaccines have been discovered and produced largely thanks to billions in public funding. Suspending patents so the whole world can benefit would be a long-overdue public return on this public investment in innovation. 

Boris Johnson must do all he can to get doses into the arms of everyone, everywhere. And right now, that means standing up to big pharma, waiving intellectual property, and making these companies share their vaccine technology and knowhow with the World Health Organisation.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Secretary of Defense

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