21 July 2021
The cost of vaccinating the world against COVID-19 could be at least five times cheaper if pharmaceutical companies weren’t profiteering from their monopolies on COVID-19 vaccines, campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance said today.
New analysis by the Alliance shows that the firms Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are charging governments as much as $41 billion above the estimated cost of production. Colombia, for example, has potentially overpaid by as much as $375 million for its doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, in comparison to the estimated cost price.
Despite a rapid rise in COVID cases and deaths across the developing world, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have sold over 90 per cent of their vaccines so far to rich countries, charging up to 24 times the potential cost of production. Last week Pfizer/BioNTech announced it would licence a South African company to fill and package 100 million doses for use in Africa, but this is a drop in the ocean of need. Neither company have agreed to fully transfer vaccine technology and know-how with any capable producers in developing countries, a move that could increase global supply, drive down prices and save millions of lives.
Analysis of production techniques for the leading mRNA type vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – which were only developed thanks to public funding to the tune of $8.3 billion – suggest these vaccines could be made for as little as $1.20 a dose. Yet COVAX, the scheme set up to help countries get access to COVID vaccines, has been paying, on average, nearly five times more. COVAX has also struggled to get enough doses and at the speed required, because of the inadequate supply and the fact that rich nations have pushed their way to the front of the queue by willingly paying excessive prices.
Without pharmaceutical monopolies on vaccines restricting supply and driving up prices, the Alliance says the money spent by COVAX to date could have been enough to fully vaccinate every person in Low and Middle-income countries with cost-price vaccines, if there was enough supply. Instead at best COVAX will vaccinate 23 per cent by end of 2021.
The Alliance of nearly 70 organisations, including the African Alliance, Oxfam and UNAIDS, says the failure of some rich countries to back the removal of monopolies and to drive down these excessive prices has directly contributed to vaccine scarcity in poorer nations.
Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, said: “Pharmaceutical companies are holding the world to ransom at a time of unprecedented global crisis. This is perhaps one of the most lethal cases of profiteering in history.
“Precious budgets that could be used for building more health facilities in poorer countries are instead being raided by CEOs and shareholders of these all-powerful corporations.”
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS said: “Health workers are dying on the frontline all over the world every single day. Uganda alone lost more than fifty health workers in just two weeks. A reminder of the time when millions of people were dying of HIV in developing countries because the medicines that could save them were priced too high.
“I see lives being saved in vaccinated countries, even as the Delta variant spreads, and I want the same for developing countries. It is criminal that the majority of humanity is still facing this cruel disease unprotected because Pharma monopolies and super profits are being put first.”
While some rich countries have started to re-distribute a fraction of their excess doses and have made funding commitments, this charity is not enough to fix the global vaccine supply problems. The People’s Vaccine Alliance is calling on all governments to insist that the vaccine technology is transferred – to enable all qualified manufacturers worldwide, especially those in developing countries, to produce these vaccines. Governments should also urgently approve a waiver of intellectual property rules related to COVID-19 technologies as proposed by South Africa and India.
The waiver, which has been supported by over 100 nations including the US and France has now entered formal negotiations at the World Trade Organisation that met again this week. But the proposal has been repeatedly blocked by Germany, the UK and the European Union.
Maaza Seyoum, from the African Alliance and People’s Vaccine Alliance Africa, said: “Enabling developing country manufacturers to produce vaccines is the fastest and surest way to ramp up supply and dramatically drive down prices. When this was done for HIV treatment, we saw prices drop by up to 99 per cent.
“What possible reason then do the governments of the UK, Germany and EU have to ignore the repeated calls from developing countries to break the vaccine monopolies that could drive up production while driving down price?”
Less than one per cent of people in Low Income countries have received a vaccine, while the profits made by the companies has seen the CEOs of Moderna and BioNTech become billionaires.
Before the pandemic, developing countries paid a median price of $0.80 a dose for all non- COVID vaccines, according to analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO). While all vaccines are different and the new vaccines may not be directly comparable, even one of the cheapest COVID 19 vaccines on the market, Oxford/AstraZeneca, is nearly four times this price; the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is 13 times; and the most expensive vaccines, such as Pfizer/ BioNTech, Moderna and the Chinese produced Sinopharm, are up to 50 times higher.
It is vital that vaccine manufacturers are forced to justify why their vaccines cost more, but open competition is also critical to bring down prices and increase supply. All vaccines, old and new, only come down in price once there are multiple competitors in the market.
Never in history have governments been buying more doses of vaccines for one disease and the large-scale production should drive down costs, enabling companies to charge lower prices. Yet the EU reportedly paid even higher prices for its second order from Pfizer/BioNTech. Dramatic price escalation is predicted to continue in the absence of government action and with the possibility of booster shots being required for years to come. The CEO of Pfizer has suggested potential future prices of as much as $175 per dose – 148 times more than the potential cost of production. And because pharmaceutical companies anticipate charging such high prices for boosters, they will continue to sell doses to rich countries at the expense of protecting lives globally.
In a briefing note, published today, The People’s Vaccine Alliance highlighted examples of how much both developing and wealthier nations have been potentially overpaying:
$28 a dose – nearly 24 times the potential production cost.
Maaza Seyoum said: “As long as the pharmaceutical corporations retain their monopolies on the life-saving technology, they will always prioritise contracts where they can make the most excessive profits, leaving developing countries out in the cold.
“With government budgets in crisis the world over, and COVID cases rising in many
developing countries, it’s time to stop subsidising corporate fat cats. It’s time to put people
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Notes to editors:
A copy of the briefing note is available here: https://bit.ly/TheGreatVaccineRobbery
$29.50 per dose for 10 million doses of Moderna. A potential overspend of $375 million.
Public Citizen the UK would have saved £1.8 billion, enough to pay every NHS worker a bonus of £1,012 (based on the NHS having 1.5million members of staff in England, 140,000 in Scotland, 78,000 in Wales and 64,000 in Northern Ireland).
21 April 2021
Health advocacy organisation the African Alliance has filed a complaint with the Judicial Services Commission against Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng following the Chief Justice’s false and dangerous vaccine claims.
In December, Mogoeng led a crowd at Tembisa Hospital in prayer, saying: “If there be any [COVID-19] vaccine that is the work of the devil meant to infuse 666 in the lives of the people, meant to corrupt their DNA… may it be destroyed by fire.”
Mogoeng’s comments, which he has repeatedly defended, imply that vaccines can be dangerous with no factual basis. By doing this, his statements as a highly visible civil servant undermine the public’s confidence in life-saving and scientifically-tested vaccines.
“Let’s be clear: Vaccines are not made by the devil and do not change your DNA,” says African Alliance head Tian Johnson, who submitted the complaint on behalf of the organisation. “The real danger is that statements such as Mogoeng’s decrease the public trust in vaccines, and that hurts all of us.”
The Chief Justice should be aware that national regulators such as South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) exist to ensure that products like vaccines are safe, effective, and of high quality. It is highly likely that the Chief Justice himself is alive and healthy today – and free to make such baseless conspiracy theories – as a direct of result of him being vaccinated as a child in Koffiekraal Village, in the North West Province.
“Today, hundreds of people will die from COVID-19,” Johnson continues. “When South Africa gets access to a COVID-19 vaccine, we need as many people as we can to take those vaccines.”
“The more people we can vaccinate against COVID-19, the less chance we all have of becoming infected with the virus. Misinformation about vaccines only puts that goal farther out of reach.”
In making unfounded claims about vaccines, the African Alliance believes Mogoeng acted in a manner incompatible with or unbecoming of a holder of a judicial office and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct in relation to the Judicial Services Commission Act.
We now call on the Judicial Conduct Committee to urgently review and deal with the complaint to protect the public investments made in a COVID-19 vaccine.
The African Alliance is also concerned that Mogoeng is just one of several prominent, public leaders and political figures that have peddled misinformation during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Most recently, eThekwini ANC ward councilor Sfiso Mngadi reportedly admitted to circulating dangerous vaccine conspiracy theories in KwaZulu-Natal via a voice note.
“What public officials say matters. When what they say puts lives at risk and spreads dangerous lies about vaccines, we will hold them to account,” Johnson says. “We expect government and political parties to do the same.”
African Alliance’s complaint against Chief Justice Mogoeng can be read in full here.
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South Africa’s newest COVID-19 vaccine trial is another crucial step in ensuring a future vaccine works for South Africans and should be commended, says advocacy group the African Alliance and partner, the Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group.
“Historically, Africa has had to wait too long to get medicines and vaccines that the Global North long took for granted for many reasons — including a lack of local data from Africa,” says Tian Johnson. Johnson is head of NGO, the African Alliance and founding member of the Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group that works to ensure that civil society and communities are meaningfully involved in vaccine research and development and access.
“Today, South African scientists’ leading role in COVID-19 vaccine research takes us a step closer in ensuring that history doesn’t repeat itself this pandemic.”
The country’s latest and third vaccine trial, launched today, will test whether an experimental vaccine can protect people from contracting the new coronavirus or developing serious COVID-19 symptoms.
South Africa is now one of nine countries, including the United States, Argentina and Mexico, which will test the vaccine. The South African trial follows earlier studies in the US and Belgium that showed the jab was safe to use.
Importantly, the study — called the Ensemble trial — will include people most at risk of severe COVID-19 disease: Those over the age of 60 and people with underlying health conditions such as hypertension, obesity, and diabetes.
The African Alliance commends researchers for taking this step.
“The Ensemble study’s decision to include those in our society most vulnerable to COVID-19 is a brave but necessary move, and one to be supported if we believe in making sure that those most vulnerable to the disease are included in the search for its solutions,” Johnson says.
But science cannot go it alone. The African Alliance and the VARG welcome South African researchers’ decision to ensure that each Ensemble clinical trial site has established community bodies to help oversee and guide the trial. This work builds on decades of successful partnerships between communities and HIV researchers in South Africa.
We look forward to working with researchers and communities to ensure that these strong and meaningful partnerships continue not only during COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials but also long after they stop.
“The world desperately needs effective vaccines and medicines to treat COVID-19, and the quest to develop these has pushed science to find new and faster ways of finding them,” Johnson says. “But in the rush to find effective solutions to COVID-19, we cannot afford to leave communities behind, and their involvement cannot be an afterthought for researchers.”
“As this landmark COVID-19 trial is launched, civil society now more than ever needs to be aware, strategic and unrelenting in how we hold our governments, researchers, regulators and the funders of research to account.”
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Governments and international partners must unite around a global guarantee which ensures that, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge. The same applies to all treatments, diagnostics, and other technologies for COVID-19.
We support the call for a Peoples Vaccine!