Pfizer making a killing, literally

November 3, 2021 - 19:35

TEHRAN - Once again, this year, the American drug manufacturer Pfizer has significantly raised its revenue forecast by cashing in on Covid-19 vaccines and triggering calls by rights groups to stop putting profit ahead of human lives.

The company says it is now expected to generate $36bn in sales from covid jabs more than doubling its forecast in comparison with its initial estimates. It is also predicting another $29bn for next year with the sale of booster shots and the distribution of jabs for children. It’s a big jump from February when the American drug maker was anticipating its sales in 2021 to the tune of $15bn. 

Western nations such as the U.S., the UK and Germany have placed orders for booster jabs (a third shot), which has proven controversial because only 3.7% of people living in low-income countries have been administered with at least one coronavirus vaccine.

Pfizer vaccines have flooded countries, but because they are so expensive, Pfizer jabs have only flooded wealthy countries. 

There is anger that during an extremely deadly pandemic, rich pharmaceutical companies are selfishly saving the lives of only those who can afford to buy their vaccines instead of sharing information on how to make the vaccine with poorer nations.

Human rights organizations such as the Global Justice Now accused Pfizer of “making a killing out of the most lucrative medicine ever produced,” while “most of the world has been locked out of this vaccine.”

The campaign group adds, “Just 1% of Pfizer’s supplies have been sold to the international distribution mechanism COVAX, as the company has put sales of third and fourth doses in wealthy markets ahead of selling doses to where they’re most needed” before adding “this will undoubtedly prolong the pandemic.”

It has drawn the ire of Amnesty International which says Pfizer is “hurting the chances of millions to get vaccinated.” The international rights organization says “that Pfizer has been able to earn billions of dollars in revenue in the last three months alone, while failing to provide vaccines to billions of people, is a failure of catastrophic proportions.” 

According to Amnesty International “not only has the vast majority of its vaccines gone to high and upper-middle-income countries but Pfizer has also consistently refused to waive its intellectual property rights and share vaccine technology, while at the same time benefitting from billions of dollars in government funding and advance orders from wealthy countries.” 

The rights group argues that this is prolonging the global crisis as the “apparently unquenchable thirst for profits of big pharmaceutical companies, like Pfizer, is fueling an unprecedented human rights crisis. If left unchecked, the rights of billions of people around the world to life and to health will continue to be in jeopardy.” Its own research has found that Pfizer and BioNTech have so far delivered nine times more vaccines to Sweden than to all low-income countries combined. 

At the end of this month, World Health Organization members will meet in Geneva to discuss a waiver to temporarily lift intellectual property rights, which will potentially expand the world’s manufacturing capacity of Covid-19 vaccines. Something major western pharmaceutical companies have opposed. But rights groups say “big pharma must stop lobbying against the waiver so that world production can be boosted and diversified, and every person on the planet can get a shot at these life-saving vaccines.”

Only 1% of Pfizer’s supplies have been sold to the international distribution mechanism COVAX.Late last month, the Amnesty accused six pharmaceutical companies that have developed Covid-19 vaccines of fueling a global human rights crisis, citing their refusal to sufficiently waive intellectual property rights, share vaccine technology and boost global vaccine supply. 

After assessing the performance of six Covid-19 vaccine developers; Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax, Amnesty International said that all are failing to uphold their own human rights commitments and warned they should not be putting profit before the lives of people in the world’s poorest countries.

According to its research Pfizer has said that, “fair and equitable distribution was our North Star from day one;” BioNTech has said that it aims to make its vaccines “available worldwide as quickly as possible;” and Moderna has committed to “provide effective and affordable vaccines and therapeutics to all populations.” Yet Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna have allocated almost all of their vaccines so far delivered to higher income countries. At the beginning of September, 98% of Pfizer/BioNTech deliveries have been allocated to high and upper-middle-income countries. This is also the case for 88% of Moderna’s deliveries to date.

For Johnson & Johnson, 79% of its deliveries to date have been to high- and upper-middle-income countries, though planned deliveries to COVAX and the African Union means that it is orders for the year are more balanced at 53%, if it meets its commitments. In contrast, for AstraZeneca some 34% of its deliveries went to high- and upper-middle-income countries.
Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have so far delivered small percentages of their current production into the COVAX Facility. Most doses currently pledged will only be delivered in 2022 – well after many poorer regions have been wracked by further deadly Covid-19 outbreaks. Just 3.4% of Moderna’s 2021 production and 8% of Pfizer/BioNTech’s is due to go COVAX. Novavax has taken a more responsible approach, with over 60% of their agreed sales to date allocated to COVAX.

One of the major obstacles to ensuring fair access to Covid-19 vaccines is lack of transparency, which makes contracts, pricing, technology and knowledge transfer impossible to accurately map and optimize. Yet no company assessed has fully disclosed the actual costs of production, individual cost items, sources of external funding, prices charged in different countries, contractual terms and conditions, or information about discounting, donations and advance order guarantees.

While the vaccine developers claim to respect human rights, all of them - to differing degrees – have failed to meet their responsibilities. Through their actions and omissions, they have ended up causing or contributing to human rights harms suffered by billions of people lacking access to the Covid-19 vaccine. Companies have caused human rights harms through their decisions not to share intellectual property and technology and contributed to violations of the rights to life and health by repeatedly selling most of their scarce stock to wealthier countries, often at significant profit.
Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have charged high prices for their vaccines and allocated almost all
of vaccines so far delivered (as opposed to pledged) to high-income countries, putting profits before access to essential medicines. Despite the huge potential of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine for reaching poorer parts of the world, the company has been slow to move beyond high- and upper- income markets, and has actively obstructed efforts to license its technology. 

Former UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, says, “Big pharma’s intentional blocking of knowledge transfer and their wheeling and dealing in favour of wealthy states has brewed an utterly devastating vaccine scarcity for so many others.” She argues “[These companies’] actions are plunging parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia into renewed crises, pushing weakened health systems to the very brink and causing tens of thousands of preventable deaths every week.”

However, experts say U.S. made Pfizer is the corporation that has profited most from Covid-19 vaccines to date arguing that the company uses its power to aggressively defend and extend its patents. Unlike other the other companies Pfizer, which sells a single dose at almost $20 has explicitly said it will profit throughout the pandemic.

But even that’s not enough. Pfizer's CFO, Frank D'Amelio, told Wall Street analysts "That's not a normal price, like we typically get for a vaccine, $150, $175 per dose... let's go beyond a pandemic pricing environment, the environment we're currently in: Obviously, we're going to get more on price."

Governments in some wealthy western countries must talk a share of the blame as well by not pressuring Pfizer; instead encouraging the firm by purchasing hundreds of millions of its covid jabs. 

The solution may be found by who Pfizer's CFO spoke with about increasing the price: Wall Street analysts.


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