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Albert Bourla

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla delivers a speech in Thessaloniki, Greece on October 12, 2021. (Photo: Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP via Getty Images)

In Earnings Call, Pfizer Celebrated Chance to Profit Off End of Public Health Measures

"Prevention is key and should be the humane top priority, not lining pockets," said one observer.

Julia Conley

Public health advocates on Monday said a newly-reported discussion between Pfizer executives and investors illustrated exactly why efforts to protect people's health must not be seen as a driver of profits, as the company's views on waning Covid-19 mitigation tactics came to light.

As Kaiser Health News reported last week in an article about the pharmaceutical company's outsized influence over the federal government as the U.S. navigates the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, executives spoke openly in a May 3 earnings call with investors about the benefits of lifted mask mandates and rising demand for Paxlovid, the company's antiviral medication.

"Medical and economic systems motivated by profit can't be incentivized to create lasting health."

"We also see that the social—the removal of the mask mandate, the social distancing requirements that have been removed," said Angela Hwang, president of Pfizer's biopharmaceuticals group. "People are going to get out there. We know with all of that, infections are going to increase, and that's the role that Paxlovid can play."

The company has agreed to sell 20 million five-day courses of the medication, which is prescribed to Covid-19 patients who are at high risk for severe disease, paying $530 for each course.

Pfizer appears to be seeing a significant return on investment after spending more than $25 million to lobby the federal government to pass legislation to protect and promote its products since the pandemic began. The company doubled its revenue in 2021 from the previous year, raking in $81.3 billion after introducing Paxlovid and widely distributing its Covid-19 vaccine.

The company's apparent enthusiasm for continuing that upward trend—even it means thousands of people continue to be sickened and hospitalized and hundreds die each day as the virus continues to mutate and spread—reminded one blogger of pharmaceutical companies creating and profiting from the opioid epidemic.

"Prevention is key and should be the humane top priority, not lining pockets," said Chloe Humbert, author of a newsletter about the pandemic.

Public health experts have warned in recent months that the lifting of mask mandates for public transportation, including planes, and in other public places is likely to increase transmission of the virus.

Nearly 100% of the U.S. population lives in areas where transmission of Covid-19 is currently classified as "high" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to the agency's transmission map.

Bradford William Davis, an investigative reporter for Business Insider, said the earnings call was noteworthy because it included comments by people in positions of power acknowledging that Covid is spreading "as a direct result of removing Covid protections like masks."

Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer's chief scientific officer, also noted in the earnings call that immunocompromised people "may carry this virus for a very, very long time" and need repeated courses of Paxlovid.

"And we see that area as a real new opportunity growth area for Paxlovid to do very well, where you may need to take multiple courses over a year or even treat with extended duration," Dolsten told investors.

The executives' comments reminded Dr. Steven Thrasher, author of The Viral Underclass, of a funeral home director he interviewed "who longed for the early AIDS years because it was better for his business."

"Medical and economic systems motivated by profit can't be incentivized to create lasting health," said Thrasher. "And if the various Covid vaccines had been open sourced, [other] countries could have vaccinated people and lowered the chances for mutations."

"It is obscene that people may die or suffer from long Covid or painful monkeypox lesions or go blind just for the profit of a few people," he added.

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