Pfizer has blood on its hands: 20 global health organisations demand end to the pharma giant’s pandemic profiteering
Campaigners deliver wheelbarrows of money and giant cheque to Pfizer offices as AGM takes place, demanding the company put people over profits
As Pfizer’s executive leadership team and shareholders meet in New York to celebrate its record-breaking profits at its Annual General Meeting on Thursday 28th April, 20 organisations have signed an open letter demanding the company end its monopolies on COVID-19 vaccine and treatment technologies.
The letter states that whilst Pfizer almost doubled its annual revenue to $81.3bn in 2021, it has contributed to an over 15 billion dose gap in global supply needed for 2022.
This trend is continuing with treatments, they argue, with this year’s predicted supply of several key COVID-19 therapeutics, including Pfizer’s Paxlovid, having been already bought up almost entirely by high-income countries
Organisations also point out that there are over 100 sites outside of the Global North that could be producing mRNA vaccines, were Pfizer to share its technology and know-how. Meanwhile, just 15.2% of people in low-income countries have received a first vaccine dose.
On Thursday, campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance in the UK will deliver this letter and present Pfizer offices at Walton Oaks, Surrey, with wheelbarrows of fake cash and a giant cheque to mark the company’s pandemic profiteering.
The campaigners, several of them from families bereaved by COVID-19 as a result of lack of vaccine access, are to deliver these ‘pandemic profits’ with bloodstained hands; highlighting their claim that Pfizer’s refusal to share its vaccine technology and know-how during the pandemic means it has blood on its hands.
Sakina Datoo, a patient leader with Just Treatment, who’s father died in Tanzania due to lack of access to a vaccine, said:
“I lost my father in Tanzania to COVID-19 because companies like Pfizer chose to prioritise selling to rich markets like the UK before considering providing for countries in Africa. It’s now extremely hard for people in most African countries to trust that big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer will ever put our health needs first.
We are demanding they share access to life-saving technology so that we can take control of our health, because frankly they do not seem bothered about whether we live or die.”
The letter follows the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that the world is about to make the same mistake with COVID treatments as it has with vaccines as it endorsed Paxlovid for patients at high-risk from COVID-19.
Tarun Gidwani, a member of the Global Justice Now Youth Network, who’s family members in India have to ration haemophilia drugs due to cost, said:
“I’m protesting at Pfizer today because it’s sickening that they’re celebrating record profits while refusing to share the technology with countries in the global south who could manufacture these life-saving medications. When over 80% of people in low-income countries still haven’t received a single jab and deaths are still mounting, this is unconscionable: Pfizer has blood on its hands.
This pandemic is not over, but we also need to look at the entire system that allows big pharma to profit off of human suffering. I have family members in India who have to ration their haemophilia drugs because of the extortionate prices pharma companies charge. As a result they have to suffer severe bleeds and substantial pain. This is completely avoidable. No one should have to go without medication due to financial cost.”
Tian Johnson, Head of the African Alliance and Community Co-Chair of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, said:
“This would have been an entirely different pandemic had Pfizer and other vaccine manufacturers shared their technology from the get go.
In my own country, our scientists have learnt how to use mRNA technology and painstakingly developed vaccine prototypes. Their work could have been sped up and many lives saved if these companies had just shared their technology.
Instead, Pfizer and others are perfectly happy to play a leading role in perpetuating vaccine apartheid.”
Saoirse Fitzpatrick, Advocacy Manager at STOPAIDS said:
“Monopoly protections on vaccines and the refusal by pharma companies to share their know-how means the majority of countries will not reach the WHO’s targets to vaccinate 70% of the world by June.
Now we’re seeing the same patterns of inequity with COVID-19 treatments. High-income countries have brought up the majority of Pfizer’s Paxlovid supply and simultaneously many middle-income countries are being prevented from manufacturing or procuring cheaper, generic versions of the drug. It is deeply depressing that no lessons from the dire inequity witnessed in the global vaccine roll-out have been learned.”
In March 2022, the UN said that vaccine inequity was leading to tens of thousands of preventable deaths every week.
Notes to editors:
• In 2021, Pfizer almost doubled its total global annual revenue to $81.3bn largely thanks to sales of its COVID-19 vaccine. Source: https://www.statista.com/chart/25434/pfizer-annual-revenue/
• Percentage of people in low-income countries having received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine was 15.2% as of 18th April 2022. Source: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/share-people-vaccinated-covid?country=High+income~Upper+middle+income~Lower+middle+income~Low+income
• Pfizer had signed an agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) to licence generic versions of its new COVID antiviral Paxlovid in November 2021; more than 100 companies have expressed interest in producing a generic version of Paxlovid. However the MPP excludes 47% of the world’s population, including Argentina, Brazil, Iraq, Lebanon, Malaysia, and Thailand. Source: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(22)00372-5/fulltext
• It will take a year until generic versions will enter the market, meanwhile high-income countries have already purchased the first 30 million courses expected to be available by July, 2022. Source: Knowledge Economy International.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance is a movement of over 100 organisations campaigning for COVID-19 vaccines and medicines to be available for all people, in all countries, free of charge.
Global Justice Now campaigns for a world where resources are controlled by the many, not the few. With thousands of members around the UK, we work in solidarity with global social movements to fight inequality and injustice.
Just Treatment is a patient-led movement fighting to ensure everyone gets the healthcare they need by challenging the power of the pharmaceutical and health industries and demanding that the government acts to put patients before corporate profits.
African Alliance is an international advocacy organisation, rooted in Feminist and Pan-Africanism Principles, working on development, COVID-19, and health rights.
STOPAIDS is a UK-based HIV, health and rights network.
For more information, photos or to arrange an interview, please contact Jake Atkinson on firstname.lastname@example.org or on +447887348161
Text of, and signatories to, the letter of demands to Pfizer:
Open Letter to Pfizer’s Executive Leadership,
We are writing as organisations and individuals working on global public health to express our deep concern at Pfizer’s continuing failure to address inequitable global access to its COVID-19 vaccine and treatments.
As Pfizer’s executives and shareholders gather to celebrate a year of record revenues at today’s annual general meeting, it is vital the company finally acts to put global access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments ahead of the pursuit of extreme profits.
It is clear to us and campaigners around the world that there is a direct relationship between pharmaceutical profit incentives during the pandemic and the huge numbers of preventable deaths from COVID-19.
While Pfizer almost doubled its annual revenue to $81.3bn in 2021, largely thanks to sales of its COVID-19 vaccine, the company failed people in low- and middle-income countries. Just 2% of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine supply went to vaccine distribution mechanism COVAX, while 70% went to the richest section of the global population in high income countries. The disastrous reality is that 85% of people in low income countries are still waiting on their first dose.
Despite this inequitable distribution, Pfizer has consistently refused to share its vaccine technology and know-how with manufacturers in the global south, even while research shows that there are over 100 firms in Asia, Africa and Latin America with the potential to produce mRNA vaccines. In this way, Pfizer has effectively maintained an extremely profitable monopoly on its vaccine and put safeguarding its future sales ahead of protecting human life in a global health emergency.
During this period of extreme vaccine inequality, people in low- and lower-middle income countries have been more likely to die from COVID-19. The UN recently described vaccine inequality as leading to “tens of thousands of preventable deaths every week”. In this context, we believe that Pfizer’s failure to share its vaccine technology and know-how during the pandemic means it has blood on its hands.
While Pfizer is one of the most shocking cases of a company profiteering from the pandemic, it is not the only company to have failed in its moral duty to share life-saving vaccine technology and know-how. We extend these criticisms to all companies that have made extreme profits from the pandemic while refusing to share their vaccine know-how widely.
But Pfizer’s failure looks even worse when you consider how much public money supported the vaccine’s development. The mRNA technology that the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine relies on was underpinned by huge long-term public investment in R&D by the US Government. BioNtech, which undertook the initial development of this vaccine, received substantial funding from the German Government to support its development. The vaccine’s production was also derisked by billions of dollars of public funds through advanced purchase agreements. A vaccine with such substantial public backing should be a people’s vaccine, not an exclusive private monopoly.
The impact of Pfizer’s failure to share its technology has been catastrophic and a change of course is needed urgently. By some estimates there remains a 15 billion dose gap in global supplies of mRNA vaccines for 2022. Compounding over a year of scandalous vaccine inequity, COVID-19 treatments are now likely to follow a similar pattern. This year’s predicted supply of several key COVID-19 therapeutics, including Pfizer’s Paxlovid, has already been bought up almost entirely by high-income countries.
It is imperative that Pfizer immediately moves to end the pandemic monopolies that put so many lives at risk.
We demand that Pfizer:
• Immediately shares its vaccine technology with the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool without conditions that might undermine the potential impact on global access.
• Drops all monopoly protections on its vaccine technology and proactively shares the know-how and trade secrets with potential manufacturers and the WHO-supported mRNA hubs.
• Drops all monopoly protections on the COVID-19 treatment nirmatrelvir/ritonavir (Paxlovid) and removes all conditions that curtail generic production and supply contained in the voluntary licence agreed with the Medicine Patent Pool.
• Commits to redirecting supplies of all COVID-19 products, at cost price, to ensure those with greatest need, such as vulnerable patients and health workers, are prioritised regardless of where they live.
Global Justice Now
South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE)
Treatment Action Group
Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group
New York Trade Justice Coalition
Peoples Vaccine Alliance – Asia (PVA Asia)
Third World Network
Universities Allied for Essential Medicines
Health Poverty Action
ACT UP LONDON
Health Justice Initiative