Big Pharma rewards shareholders with $26 billion amid vaccine apartheid

Big Pharma rewards shareholders with $26 billion amid vaccine apartheid

22 April 2021

As of today, there have been more than 144.5 million cases of Covid-19 recorded worldwide. By tomorrow, that number will have risen again.

But the pandemic has led to other figures increasing too, namely the bank balance of Big Pharma’s top executives and shareholders.

Over the past 12 months, the People’s Vaccine Alliance calculates that Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have paid out $26 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to their shareholders – enough to pay to vaccinate at least 1.3bn people. To help you visualise that number – that equates to the entire population of Africa.

While the global economy remains frozen due to the slow and uneven vaccine rollout, the soaring shares of vaccine makers has created a new wave of billionaires. The founder of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, is now worth $5.9. billion and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel $5.2 billion.

According to regulatory filings, Bancel has cashed out more than $142 million in Moderna stock since the pandemic began. Many other investors have also become billionaires in the last few months, while the International Chamber of Commerce projects a worst-case GDP loss of $9 trillion due to global vaccine inequity.

Protests are expected outside shareholders meetings today in the UK and US as investors inside present resolutions to expand vaccine access. There is a growing backlash against the de facto privatisation of successful Covid-19 vaccines and pressure on the pharmaceutical companies to share the technology and know-how with qualified vaccine producers across the world.

“This is a public health emergency, not a private profit opportunity,” said Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland. “We should not be letting corporations decide who lives and who dies while boosting their profits. We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine.

Vaccine apartheid is not a natural phenomenon but the result of governments stepping back and allowing corporations to call the shots. Instead of creating new vaccine billionaires we need to be vaccinating billions in developing countries. It is appalling that Big Pharma is making huge pay-outs to wealthy shareholders in the face of this global health emergency.

While one in four citizens of rich nations have had a vaccine, just one in 500 people in poorer countries have done so, meaning the death toll continues to climb as the virus remains out of control. Epidemiologists are predicting we have less than a year before mutations could render the current vaccines ineffective.

One of the reasons Pharma companies have been able to generate such large profits is because of intellectual property rules that restrict production to a handful of companies.

Last week, 175 former heads of state and Nobel Prize winners, including former president Mary Robinson, Francois Hollande and Joseph Stiglitz wrote to US President Joe Biden to support the temporary waiving of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to enable the rapid scale-up of vaccine production across the world.

They join the 1.5 million people in the US and other nations who have signalled their support for a People’s Vaccine.

More than 100 low- and middle-income nations, led by India and South Africa, are calling at the World Trade Organisation for a waiver of intellectual property protections on Covid-19 products during the pandemic, a move so far opposed by the US, EU and other rich nations. The Biden administration is reportedly considering dropping US opposition to the waiver, with a US Trade representative saying at the WTO that “the market once again has failed in meeting the health needs of developing countries”.

The next TRIPS waiver meeting at the WHO is on Friday, 30 April. If you believe in vaccine equality, and that no person should be left behind, you can take action today.

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