The Future is Equal

Archives for November 16, 2021

Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna making US$1,000 profit every second while world’s poorest countries remain largely unvaccinated

Demand grows for firms to share vaccine recipes and technology as billionaire pharma bosses convene for ‘Big Pharma Davos’

New figures from the Peoples Vaccine Alliance reveal that the companies behind two of the most successful COVID vaccines – Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna – are making combined profits of US$65,000 (NZ$92,000) every minute. The figures based on the latest company reports are released as CEOs from pharmaceutical industry meet for the annual STAT summit – the equivalent of a ‘Big Pharma Davos’ – from 16 – 18 November.

These companies have sold the majority of doses to rich countries, leaving low income countries out in the cold.  Pfizer and BioNTech have delivered less than one percent of their total vaccine supplies to low-income countries, while Moderna has delivered just 0.2 percent. Meanwhile 98 percent of people in low income countries have not been fully vaccinated.

Maaza Seyoum of the African Alliance and People’s Vaccine Alliance Africa said:  “It is obscene that just a few companies are making millions of dollars in profit every single hour, while just two percent of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

“Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have used their monopolies to prioritise the most profitable contracts with the richest governments, leaving low income countries out in the cold.”

Despite receiving public funding of over US$8 billion, the three corporations have refused calls to urgently transfer vaccine technology and know-how with capable producers in low- and middle-income countries via the World Health Organisation (WHO), a move that could increase global supply, drive down prices and save millions of lives. In Moderna’s case, this is despite explicit pressure from the White House  and  requests from the WHO  that the company collaborate in and help accelerate its plan to replicate the Moderna vaccine for wider production at its mRNA hub in South Africa.  

While Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, described the call to share vaccine recipes ‘dangerous nonsense,’  the WHO  emergency use approval of the Indian vaccine Covaxin earlier this month is clear evidence that developing countries have the capacity and expertise.

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager said: “Contrary to what Pfizer’s CEO says, the real nonsense is claiming the experience and expertise to develop and manufacture life-saving medicines and vaccines does not exist in developing countries. This is just a false excuse that pharmaceutical companies are hiding behind to protect their astronomical profits.

“It is also a complete failure of government to allow these companies to maintain monopoly control and artificially constrain supply in the midst of a pandemic while so many people in the world are yet to be vaccinated.”

Based on company financial statements, the Alliance estimates that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna will make pre-tax profits of US$34 billion this year between them, which works out as over a thousand dollars a second, US$65,000 a minute or US$93.5 million a day. The monopolies these companies hold have produced five new billionaires during the pandemic, with a combined net wealth of US$35.1 billion.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, which has 80 members including the African Alliance, Global Justice Now, Oxfam, and UNAIDS, is calling for the pharmaceutical corporations to immediately suspend intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines, tests, treatments, and other medical tools by agreeing to the proposed waiver of the TRIPS Agreement at the World Trade Organisation.

They are also calling on governments, including the United States, to use all their legal and policy tools to demand that pharmaceutical companies share COVID-19 data, know-how, and technology with the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and South Africa mRNA Technology Transfer Hub.

More than 100 nations, led by South Africa and India – with the support of the US – have been calling for the TRIPS waiver, which also has the support of over 100 past and present world leaders and Nobel laureates.

Despite this, other rich nations, including the UK and Germany, are still blocking the proposal, putting the interest of pharmaceutical companies over what’s best for the world.  This issue is set to dominate the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Summit to be held in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December. 

Notes to editors:

  • A People’s Vaccine Alliance report from 21 October found that Moderna has only delivered 0.2 percent of their total vaccine supply to low-income countries and Pfizer/BioNTech has delivered less than 1
  • In their Q3 financial statement, Pfizer forecast US$36bn in vaccine revenue for 2021. Gross profit from the revenue is split 50/50 with BioNTech. Pfizer guidance for their income before tax (after splitting profit with BioNTech) is ‘High-20s as a Percentage of Revenues.’ A conservative 25% margin would bring Pfizer’s profit before tax to US$9bn in 2021 from the Comirnaty Covid vaccine.
  • In BioNTech’s Q3 financial statement they forecast €16-17 billion in vaccine revenue for 2021. In the 9 months ending September 30 the company made € 10.3bn profit before tax on €13.4bn, revenue giving a 77% profit margin. Using a conservative €16bn forecasted revenue for the full year, we therefore estimate that at a 77% profit margin, BioNTech will make €12.3bn in pre-tax profit in 2021 – or US$14.7bn using the 2021 average exchange rate.
  • Moderna’s Q3 profit before tax for 9 months ending September 30 is US$7.8bn on US$11.2bn revenue giving a pre-tax profit margin of 70%. The company projects full year 2021 sales to be “between US$15 billion and US$18 billion”. Using the lower end of the estimate – 70% of US$15bn is US$10.5bn in profit for 2021. The vaccine is Moderna’s only commercial product.
  • We therefore estimate the combined 2021 profit before tax for Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech as US$34bn. There are 525600 minutes in a year giving US$ 64,961 profit before tax per minute or US$1,083 per second. Pre-tax, rather than net, profit is used as Pfizer only report the guidance for pre-tax profit margin.
  • One New Zealand dollar is worth approximately 70 US cents.

Oxfam: New Zealand must do more for PNG – urgently

Papua New Guinea faces a deadly pandemic of misinformation

In response to the New Zealand government sending a medical and logistics support team to Papua New Guinea (PNG) over the weekend, Oxfam Aotearoa says that while essential supplies and support is a good contribution, the government can, and must, do more.

Oxfam Aotearoa Communications and Advocacy Director Dr Jo Spratt said:

“Recently, we heard Hon. Minister Mahuta outline how Aotearoa would partner with Pacific countries to achieve resilience. Referring to our Pacific neighbours as family, the Minister recognised our deep and enduring whakapapa connections – Tātai Hono, and reiterated the importance of Tātou Tātou – all of us together. If there is any time to put these values into action, it is when one of our family members is experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis. This support from the government is a good start, but more needs to be done and urgently.”

Oxfam Papua New Guinea Country Director Eunice Wotene says that as the third coronavirus wave escalates out of control in the country, people are experiencing a lot of challenges. There are multiple issues over Covid-19 vaccinations, lockdowns, and an overwhelmed health system further perpetuating an already stressful situation.

In an effort to control the outbreak, the PNG government has put in place control measures banning gatherings of more than 20 people and encouraging the general public to follow the “Niupela Pasin” (new normal). Provincial Controllers like that of the Eastern Highland Province have implemented travel restrictions across the borders between districts. Wotene says that control measures implemented at the provincial level have helped reduce the spread of infection and has resulted in a reduction in the number of cases presenting at the hospital. However, this has also caused challenges and restricted people from getting to vaccination centres. It has also created economic challenges for people because they can’t get to markets, sell their produce, and earn an income to sustain themselves. This has, in turn, led to an increase in other social issues like petty crimes. 

Thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been coming into PNG from neighbouring countries, but despite the large number of vaccines, PNG is struggling to get its vaccination rates above 9 per cent. Wotene says that while vaccines are welcome and needed, people are either misinformed about the risks, or unable to get vaccines:

“The situation is complicated. Many of our people live in remote rural villages. Information and vaccines aren’t reaching them, and travel restrictions between district borders make things difficult. For some people, even if they could make it to a clinic, they aren’t going because of the misinformation out there about the vaccines’ side-effects. There is a real sense of urgency now that we must do all we can to reach these people.

“In some villages, two or more family members have died from Covid-19, just days or weeks apart. We have a health system overcome with sick people and our people are dying.”

Local and international media recently reported that due to Port Moresby morgues being overwhelmed with the dead, PNG authorities had no choice but to approve mass burial.

New World Bank research, titled Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy: Survey and Experimental Evidence from Papua New Guinea, examined the motivation behind vaccine hesitancy in Papua New Guinea and tested various means of increasing people’s willingness to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. The report found that one of the main hurdles for Papua New Guineans was the fear of the vaccine itself. However, people’s replies also indicated they were open to learning more, particularly if information came from health workers. The research showed that when people were given basic information on the safety of the vaccine and the dangers of Covid-19 that increased the percentage of people who said they were willing to be vaccinated. 

Wotene said: “We need health workers to go to the people to provide useful and factual information and help ease their fears. There is also need for mobile clinics where people from the rural communities can be reached for vaccination.”

Dr Spratt said: “In addition to the recent support and supplies, the NZ government should send new emergency funding to support the PNG government and other development partners to rapidly roll-out vaccine information campaigns across the country. This could be done through village health workers, local radio stations and other locally-appropriate communication methods.

“New Zealand still has millions of spare AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines that we are not using here. We can and should donate these to PNG.”


Pfizer voluntarily licenses oral Covid treatment

In reaction to Pfizer’s announcement of voluntary licenses of its COVID-19 oral antiviral treatment Paxlovid to the Medicines Patent Pool, People’s Vaccine Alliance spokesperson and Oxfam America’s Senior Advocacy Advisor, Robbie Silverman, said:

“Pfizer’s announcement to voluntarily licence the COVID treatment Paxlovid is welcome but is far from enough. It means billions of people in developing countries will be able to access the treatment through generic production, but billions of people will still be left without as the deal excludes many developing countries like Iraq and Lebanon.

“This move also begs the important question: If Pfizer can share data and intellectual property on a medicine, why have they so far categorically refused to do so for their COVID vaccine? Perhaps the answer is in the profit they continue to reap thanks to their monopoly, hundreds of dollars every single second.

“Today’s licensing agreement shows that Pfizer is feeling the pressure from global campaigners. But it is clear that relying on the voluntary actions of pharmaceutical companies alone will not secure urgently needed access to tests, medicines and vaccines for everyone, everywhere. Only concerted action by governments to force them to share technology, know-how, and intellectual property will achieve this.

“All governments must move to immediately support the proposal of South Africa and India at the World Trade Organisation for a temporary waiver on all COVID-19 medical technologies and they must also insist on the mandatory transfer of vaccine technology to the many competent manufacturers all over the developing world who stand ready to produce the vaccines.”