AstraZeneca from hero to villain

November 15, 2021 - 18:15

TEHRAN - International charity organization Oxfam has accused AstraZeneca of breaking its promises after the pharmaceutical company said it plans to start making a profit from its COVID-19 vaccine despite having previously pledged to sell at a very modest price.

AstraZeneca has clinched the first its deals that will see the company make profit from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The move means the firm has not only backed away from its previous position of a completely non-profit model. Until now, the Anglo-Swedish company has not been making a profit from the coronavirus jab and declared it would not do so during the pandemic. It also puts a stain on the company’s image at a time when the entire African continent and other poorer nations are struggling to obtain vaccines for their populations leading to fatalities that can easily be prevented. The humanitarian aspect of the matter does not appear to be of major concern to several major pharmaceutical companies who are placing profit over human lives. 

The profits these companies are making might be short term but the the history books don’t forget and that is something that will never go away.  

The company had initially been praised by many international organizations for selling at modest prices during an international crisis and putting profits aside. 

AstraZeneca now stands to go from hero to villain. 

According to the latest financial results, AstraZeneca vaccines have indeed proved to have a low income on earnings so far this year. Now, as new orders are received, Britain’s biggest pharma firm expects the vaccine to move to “modest profitability.” 

Explaining the change of plan, chief executive Pascal Soriot told reporters: "we started this project to help... but we also said that at some stage in the future, we will transition to commercial orders”

He claims, "It will never be high priced because we want the vaccine to remain affordable to everybody around the world." Soriot further tried to justify the move by saying the virus was becoming “endemic,” a term for a disease or condition that is regularly found among particular people or in a certain area; a part of everyday life.

But the goal of the World Health Organization is to procure much more vaccines for its COVAX program that goes on to deliver them to poorer countries free of charge so that the virus does not become part of everyday life. 

Another problem is poorer nations or COVAX will only be able to buy a limited number of vaccines for distribution to poorer nations if they are being sold at a more expensive price. 

The timing raises questions as well.

Europe is bracing itself for another covid wave. Record figures have been registered over the past few weeks with infections and fatalities increasing significantly. Partial lockdowns have already started in some countries. 

As it turns out Western made vaccines have a short shelf time. The antibodies of two doses are fading away and governments are racing to purchase third booster shots. 

With new deals awaiting, it is the perfect time to cash in for the pharmaceutical companies who can sell at high prices to wealthy nations that can afford to buy. Soriot however, is standing by AstraZeneca’s move saying, “I absolutely don’t regret it.” 

The company says when including partners that the AstraZeneca has sub-licensed to make the vaccine it has released 1.5bn doses for supply in more than 170 countries. It said that it was "now expecting to progressively transition the vaccine to modest profitability as new orders are received.”

AstraZeneca said its revenues for the quarter has risen by 50% to $9.87bn. For the third quarter, the vaccine did make a small positive contribution to earnings. AstraZeneca said its revenues for the quarter has risen by 50% to $9.87bn. But profits fell short of expectations, something that may also have played play a role in the change of the financial plans. 

AstraZeneca was quick to point out that, when speaking to reporters, Soriot had emphasized that its key focus remained delivering on its no-profit commitments. Time will tell whether that commitment will stay in place. Charity groups are not optimistic. 

In response to the AstraZeneca’s announcement, Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager and spokesperson for the People’s Vaccine Alliance denounced the firm saying “AstraZeneca is breaking its repeated and celebrated public promises of a non-profit vaccine for all countries for the duration of this pandemic and to never to make a profit in any low- and middle-income country from this publicly funded vaccine. It is turning its back on these commitments at a time when the pandemic still rages and 98 percent of people in the poorest countries are not yet fully vaccinated.”

She also argued that while AstraZeneca has said the vaccine will remain non-profit for developing nations “[Oxfam] understand that 75 middle-income countries including Indonesia, The Philippines, South Africa and Zimbabwe are excluded from their commitment. AstraZeneca must immediately and unequivocally confirm that it will not profit from any sales of the vaccine for any low or middle-income country whether via bilateral deals or COVAX.” 

Anna Marriott noted that “with the number of people dying from COVID-19 rapidly rising above five million and given the development of this vaccine was 97 per cent funded by taxpayers and charities there can be no justification for this decision.”

“It is time for the Oxford University to partner with the World Health Organization so that this life-saving publicly funded vaccine technology can be shared as a global public good and produced by as many capable manufacturers around the world as possible.

In a very recent report Amnesty International said six top manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine “are fuelling an unprecedented human rights crisis through their refusal to waive intellectual property rights and share vaccine technology.” 

In the report titled “A Double Dose of Inequality” the rights group denounced AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer for “wheeling and dealing in favor of wealthy states.”

It said, “Broken promises from pharmaceutical corporations and rich country governments have been an enduring theme of this pandemic when it comes to vaccine access.” 

The announcement by AstraZeneca comes on the backdrop of its U.S. rival Pfizer announcing that it expects to enjoy major profits in the sales of its COVID-19 vaccine. Those sales are expected to total $36bn this year.

Amnesty added 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. 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 apparently unquenchable thirst for profits of big pharmaceutical companies, like Pfizer, is fuelling an unprecedented human rights crisis.” 

This is while all medical experts agree that vaccinating the globe is the only pathway out of the Pandemic. 

However, some pharmaceutical firms do not seem that bothered for the Pandemic to finish, as long as they are cashing in, critics are saying they actually appear quite comfortable to lay back and count the profits.


 

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