A campaign group has demanded an end to “monopoly control” on vaccine technology by pharmaceuticals as it revealed that profits from COVID-19 shots have helped at least nine people become billionaires.
“Between them, the nine new billionaires have a combined net wealth of $19.3 billion, enough to fully vaccinate all people in low-income countries 1.3 times,” The People’s Vaccine Alliance said in a statement. The alliance, a network of organizations and activists campaigning for an end to property rights and patents for inoculations, said its figures were based on the Forbes Rich List data.
“These billionaires are the human face of the huge profits many pharmaceutical corporations are making from the monopoly they hold on these vaccines,” said Anna Marriott from charity Oxfam, which is part of the alliance.
In addition to the new mega-rich, eight existing billionaires have seen their combined wealth increase by $32.2 billion thanks to the vaccine rollout, the alliance said.
Topping the list of new vaccine billionaires were the CEO of American drugmaker Moderna Stephane Bancel, and his BioNTech counterpart Ugur Sahin. Three other new billionaires are co-founders of the Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics.
Mounting global support
The research comes ahead of the G20 Global Health Summit on 21st May, which has been a stage for growing calls to temporarily remove intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines.
Proponents say doing so would boost production in developing countries and address the dramatic inequity in access. The United States, as well as influential figures like Pope Francis, back the idea of a global waiver on patent protections.
At a Paris summit seeking to boost financing in Africa amid the pandemic, French President Emmanuel Macron called for the removal of “all these constraints in terms of intellectual property which blocks the production of certain types of vaccines.” Recently, the European Commission said it would be a “constructive” voice in World Trade Organization (WTO) talks on the issue.
“The highly effective vaccines we have are thanks to massive amounts of taxpayers’ money so it can’t be fair that private individuals are cashing in while hundreds of millions face second and third waves completely unprotected. As thousands of people die each day in India, it is utterly repugnant to put the interests of the billionaire owners of Big Pharma ahead of the desperate needs of millions.”
Range of issues
Meanwhile, manufacturers have stressed that patent protection is not the limiting factor in ramping up vaccine production. They say a wide range of issues, from the set up of manufacturing sites, to the sourcing of raw materials, to the availability of qualified personnel, are holding up the manufacturing process.