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Health justice advocates gathered outside Pfizer Worldwide Headquarters in Manhattan on March 11, 2021, where they called on the pharmaceutical giant to share Covid-19 vaccine formulas and transfer technology to boost the global manufacturing of doses in the face of massively unequal distribution. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Health justice advocates gathered outside Pfizer Worldwide Headquarters in Manhattan on March 11, 2021, where they called on the pharmaceutical giant to share Covid-19 vaccine formulas and transfer technology to boost the global manufacturing of doses in the face of massively unequal distribution. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Covid-19 Vaccine Makers Blasted for 'Unconscionable Profits,' Monopolies, and Low Taxes

"Big Pharma's business model—receive billions in public investments, charge exorbitant prices for lifesaving medicines, pay little tax—is gold dust for wealthy investors and corporate executives but devastating for global public health."

Common Dreams staff

The People's Vaccine Alliance on Wednesday called out BioNTech, Moderna, and Pfizer for "reaping astronomical and unconscionable profits due to their monopolies of mRNA Covid vaccines," developed with the help of public funding, while the two U.S. firms paid little in taxes.

"These pharmaceutical companies prioritize their own profits by enforcing their monopolies and selling to the highest bidder."
—Robbie Silverman, Oxfam America

The alliance is a coalition of over 75 groups, including Oxfam, campaigning for equitable vaccination. While 42.4% of the global population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, less than 2% of people in low-income countries have had at least one shot, according to Our World in Data.

"Big Pharma’s business model—receive billions in public investments, charge exorbitant prices for lifesaving medicines, pay little tax—is gold dust for wealthy investors and corporate executives but devastating for global public health," said Robbie Silverman, Oxfam America's private sector engagement manager, in a statement.

"Instead of partnering with governments and other qualified manufacturers to make sure that we have enough vaccine doses for everyone, these pharmaceutical companies prioritize their own profits by enforcing their monopolies and selling to the highest bidder," he added. "Enough is enough—we must start putting people before profits."

An alliance analysis based on work by mRNA scientists at Imperial College London found that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have sold over 90% of their vaccines to wealthy countries while charging up to 24 times the potential cost of production.

On top of overcharging for vaccines that were developed with $8.3 billion in public money and potentially could be made for as little as $1.20 per dose, the U.S. companies "have not paid their fair share of taxes" while recording significant profits, the coalition charges.

According to the alliance:

In the first half of 2021, Moderna paid a 7% U.S. tax rate and Pfizer paid a 15% tax rate, well below the U.S. statutory rate of 21%. The low tax rates paid by these U.S. corporations point to a broken and dysfunctional tax system that allows corporations earning billions of dollars to pay a significantly lower tax rate than working families in the U.S. BioNTech, a German startup that produced the recipe for the Pfizer vaccine, paid a significantly higher tax rate of 31%... in Germany while reaping a 77% profit margin.

Pfizer, which developed its mRNA vaccine with BioNTech, has sold over $11 billion in Covid-19 vaccines this year—a figure expected to hit $33.5 billion by the end of 2021. The alliance noted that though the company says its vaccine profit margins are below 30%, it is not possible to independently verify that due to what information Pfizer does and doesn't make public.

Moderna, meanwhile, saw a 69% profit margin on its vaccine, the coalition found. The company, which expects to sell $20 billion in vaccines this year, has so far brought in over $6 billion in revenue, $4.3 billion of which is profit.

As pharmaceutical companies have made billions on Covid-19 vaccines, the industry has also lobbied against waiving patent protections, despite global pleas to dramatically increase production in order to save lives and prevent the emergence of more dangerous variants.

Silverman warned that "vaccine hoarding by rich countries and profiteering by rich pharma companies when millions across the world are being denied protection are not only morally wrong, but also shortsighted and dangerous."

"As the Delta variant clearly demonstrates, if Covid is left unchecked in other parts of the world, a mutation can lead to widespread transmission of the virus and severe illness or death amongst those who are not vaccinated," he said. "Future variants could send us back to square one."

"These corporations have maximized their revenues and profits by preventing others from producing the vaccines and by minimizing the taxes they pay," Silverman added. "We need a People's Vaccine, which means sharing the vaccine recipe, leveraging the world's full manufacturing capacity, and producing enough doses for everyone. No one will be safe until everyone is safe."

His warning comes as some wealthy countries with higher vaccination rates are administering or considering booster shots, which experts say could make Covid-19 vaccines even less accessible to residents of poorer countries.

"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," said Maaza Seyoum of the African Alliance and the People's Vaccine Alliance in Africa.

"This unequal status quo," Seyoum added, "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."


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