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A healthcare worker holds up an AstraZeneca vaccine.

An illustrative image of a person holding a medical syringe and a vaccine vial in front of the AstraZeneca logo on October 21, 2021 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Outrage as AstraZeneca Ditches Pledge Not to Profit From Publicly Funded Vaccine

"AstraZeneca's decision to start profiting from Oxford University's coronavirus vaccine mid-pandemic shows the utter folly of giving away publicly funded science to Big Pharma."

Jake Johnson

The multinational pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca drew immediate backlash Friday for announcing an end to its pledge not to profit from its publicly funded coronavirus vaccine until the end of the pandemic, which is still killing more than 7,000 people worldwide each day.

"Corporations will always put profits first if you give them control over who lives and who dies."

Developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, the AstraZeneca vaccine was almost entirely financed by taxpayers and charitable trusts, with just around 2% of the money coming from private industry.

Nick Dearden, director of the U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now, said in a statement that "AstraZeneca's decision to start profiting from Oxford University's coronavirus vaccine mid-pandemic shows the utter folly of giving away publicly funded science to Big Pharma."

"The non-profit pledge was never a gift to the world from a benevolent company," said Dearden. "It was the most Oxford could get from a manufacturer playing hardball during a global health emergency. And AstraZeneca has still refused to share the vaccine recipe with the [World Health Organization], which would allow poorer countries to manufacture it for themselves."

"This moment was always going to come—and it's exactly why public health experts have demanded a waiver of intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines," he continued. "Corporations will always put profits first if you give them control over who lives and who dies."

In a press release on Friday, AstraZeneca said it expects to "progressively transition the vaccine to modest profitability as new orders are received." The company said the shot generated just over $1 billion in revenue in the third quarter.

The Financial Times reported that AstraZeneca's shot will "remain non-profit for developing countries," but the company's contract with the University of Oxford gives it the ability to charge some low-income nations higher prices once it decides the pandemic has ended.

Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca's CEO, claimed Friday that Covid-19 "is becoming endemic, which means we have to learn to live with it."

According to a recent report by Amnesty International, AstraZeneca has delivered more coronavirus vaccine doses to lower-income countries than its major competitors, including Pfizer and Moderna—both of which reported major vaccine profits in the third quarter. AstraZeneca has also "issued some voluntary licenses to other manufacturers," the humanitarian group observed.

"However," Amnesty noted, "it has refused to openly share its knowledge and technology with WHO initiatives and has opposed" India and South Africa's proposed patent waiver.

Anna Marriott, health policy manager at Oxfam International, said in a statement Friday that 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."

"Broken promises from pharmaceutical corporations and rich country governments have been an enduring theme of this pandemic when it comes to vaccine access," Marriott added. "This is a further example of why the U.K. government can no longer defend the pharmaceutical monopolies driving today's vaccine apartheid."

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