Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. Billionaires laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit, independent journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work producing journalism for the common good. With our Fall Campaign underway, please support this mission today. We cannot do it without you.

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

A public notice hangs outside a vaccination center notifying a shortage of vaccines in the Mahim neighborhood of Mumbai, India on April 8, 2021. (Photo: Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

A public notice about a shortage of vaccines hangs outside a vaccination center in the Mahim neighborhood of Mumbai, India on April 8, 2021. (Photo: Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Probe of Secret Vaccine Talks Finds 'Access for All Was Never a Priority'

Public health campaigners said the investigation confirms "what we suspected all along. Vaccine nationalism and pharma profits trumped Covid solidarity."

Jake Johnson

An investigative media outlet's probe of closed-door negotiations between European officials and pharmaceutical companies indicates that ensuring equitable, universal access to coronavirus vaccines worldwide was never a top priority of the talks, despite political leaders' repeated claims to the contrary.

After speaking with current and former negotiators, United Nations representatives, NGO officials, and politicians, Investigate Europe reported Thursday that "access for all was never a priority" in initial vaccine procurement talks, which set the stage for the present inoculation gap between rich and poor countries. Of the more than 6 billion coronavirus vaccine doses that have been administered globally to date, just 2.2% have gone to people in low-income nations.

"The words 'global public goods' are an empty shell," said one unnamed negotiator, referring to a phrase that some of Europe's top political leaders—including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel—used in the early stages of the pandemic to characterize their approach to vaccine production and distribution.

Another negotiator told the outlet that "there was strong nationalism on the European level," a stance that has fueled major European countries' opposition to a proposed patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines. Pharmaceutical companies in Europe have lobbied aggressively against the patent waiver, which would endanger the drug industry's monopoly control over vaccine production.

Instead of supporting a temporary suspension of patent protections, European Union leaders have provided funding to COVAX and pledged to donate hundreds of millions of excess doses to low-income countries—efforts that have not yet made much of a dent in global vaccine inequities.

The People's Vaccine Alliance, a global coalition of more than 70 humanitarian and public health organizations, tweeted Thursday that Investigate Europe's story "details what we suspected all along."

"Vaccine nationalism and pharma profits trumped Covid solidarity," the coalition wrote.

Investigate Europe found over the course of its probe that secretive negotiations between largely anonymous European negotiators and vaccine makers allowed "Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna to increase the bill for European taxpayers" and ensure that any effort to treat vaccines as a global public good was "shelved" early on.

"What's more, deals have long remained secret, despite €3 billion of so-called Advanced Purchase Agreements to secure orders and de-risk production for drugmakers," the outlet reported, noting that contract-related documents that have been released thus far have been so heavily redacted as to be meaningless.

Investigate Europe table

Moderna, Pfizer, and the latter's German partner BioNTech "have reaped over $60 billion in jab sales in 2021 and 2022," Investigate Europe observed. The pharmaceutical giants have sold much of their vaccine supply to rich countries; Moderna hasn't delivered a single vaccine dose to a low-income nation thus far, according to an Amnesty International report published earlier this week.

"Documents seen by the Financial Times revealed that Pfizer's vaccine now fetches €19.50 against €15.50 previously," the outlet noted. "Similarly, a dose of Moderna costs $25.50 (€21.60), up from $22.50 in the first deal, although down from $28.50 in the second."

Such price hikes came despite a September 2020 promise from the E.U. Commission's top vaccine negotiator, Sandra Gallina, that vaccine doses would cost European governments between €5 and €15.

Negotiators claimed in interviews with Investigate Europe that "their hands were tied" in price talks with pharmaceutical companies because of the "lucrative contracts already signed by the United States."

"[Former U.S. President Donald] Trump set up a market based on secrecy and high prices," said one of the negotiators. Another said that "Big Pharma are very good at pressuring."

"If you don't sign their contracts," the unnamed negotiator said, "others will do."

Anna Marriott, policy lead for the People's Vaccine Alliance, told Investigate Europe that "vaccine corporations have been greedy," effectively getting taxpayers to pay for vaccines three times over.

"First with billions for research, then with bloated prices draining public funds, and finally because they're paying little in taxes," said Marriott.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Fatal Film Set Shooting Followed Outcry by Union Crew Members Over Safety Protocols

"When union members walk off a set about safety concerns, maybe 'hiring scabs' isn’t the solution you think it is."

Julia Conley ·


New Whistleblower Sparks Calls to 'Crack Down on Facebook and All Big Tech Companies'

Hours after another ex-employee filed a formal complaint, reporting broke on internal documents that show the tech giant's failure to address concerns about content related to the 2020 U.S. election.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Catastrophic and Irreparable Harm' to Wolves Averted as Wisconsin Judge Cancels Hunt

"We are heartened by this rare instance of reason and democracy prevailing in state wolf policy," said one conservation expert.

Brett Wilkins ·


West Virginia Constituents Decry 'Immorality' of Joe Manchin

"West Virginia has been locked into an economy that forces workers into low-wage jobs with no hope for advancement, and after decades of this our hope is dwindling," said one West Virginian. "The cuts that Sen. Manchin has negotiated into the agenda hurt our state."

Julia Conley ·


'Texans Deserved Better Than This': Supreme Court Leaves Abortion Ban in Place

The nation's high court set a date to hear a pair of legal challenges to the "horrific" restrictions.

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo