Access to Medicines Ireland Call on Pfizer to Share Knowledge and Address Inequitable Global Access to ts COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatments

 

PRESS RELEASE

Dublin, Friday, 29th April 2022.

Campaigners from Access to Medicines Ireland (AMI), a leading group of doctors, academics and patients, took part yesterday in a global day of action to coincide with Pfizer’s global Annual General Meetings, demanding that the company drops all monopoly protections on its COVID-19 vaccine technology and proactively shares its know-how to save lives in low- and middle-income countries.

As Pfizer’s executives and shareholders gathered to celebrate a year of record revenues at their AGM, it is vital that the company acts to put global access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments ahead of its pursuit of extreme profits.

While Pfizer almost doubled its annual revenue to $81.3bn in 2021, largely thanks to sales of its COVID-19 vaccine, the company has failed people in low- and middle-income countries. Just 2% of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine supply went to the vaccine distribution mechanism, COVAX, while 70% went to the richest section of the global population in high-income countries. 

AMI campaigner, Robbie Lawlor, said: “The disastrous reality is that 85% of people in low-income countries are still waiting on their first dose. The time for profiteering is over, millions of lives have needlessly been lost and we can’t allow this to continue. The only ethical thing that Pfizer can do is stop monopolising vaccines and treatments and start sharing know-how.’

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.

Lawlor added: “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 contributed to this devastating outcome.

Another member of Access to Medicines Ireland, James Larkin, a PhD student in health economics, called on the entire pharmaceutical industry to play its part: “While Pfizer is one of the most significant 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.”

Larkin added: “Pfizer’s failure is magnified considering how much public money supported the vaccine’s development. Furthermore, the vaccine’s production was de-risked by billions of Euros 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 significant 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 have put so many lives at risk. 

Access to Medicines Ireland has issued four demands to Pfizer:

  • Immediately share its vaccine technology with the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 Technology Access Pool without conditions that might undermine the potential impact on global access.
  • Drop all monopoly protections on its vaccine technology and proactively share the know-how and trade secrets with potential manufacturers and the WHO-supported mRNA hubs.
  • Drop all monopoly protections on the COVID-19 treatment nirmatrelvir/ ritonavir (Paxlovid) and remove all conditions that curtail generic production and supply contained in the voluntary licence agreed with the United Nations Medicines Patent Pool.
  • Commit 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.

ENDS

 

NOTES TO THE EDITOR

  • Pfizer held their AGM on 27th April, 2022.
  • In October 2020, South Africa and India submitted a proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to temporarily waive certain intellectual property (IP) rights under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) until widespread vaccination is in place globally. Since then, and despite the growing support for the initiative, the pharmaceutical industry (including Pfizer) have opposed the proposal.
  • Oxfam has calculated that three million COVID-19 deaths have occurred in the three months since the Omicron variant emerged in its recent report, Pandemic of Greed.
  • Since October, 2020, it has become clear that there are insufficient vaccine doses because of limited manufacturing capabilities and other challenges to the supply chain. Traditional voluntary mechanisms will not and cannot deliver the scale-up of production and technology transfer needed to respond to this challenge. Initiatives like the COVAX facility depend heavily on pledges and commitments that have yet to materialise, and in any case would be insufficient to provide the level of coverage needed to bring a timely end to the pandemic.
  • Access to Medicines Ireland is a member of The People’s Vaccine Alliance, an international coalition supporting a comprehensive waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and treatments. The Alliance grew out of the open letter calling for a People’s Vaccine, organised in May 2020. Information on the People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland can be found here. 

Watch AMI’s global day of action to coincide with Pfizer’s global Annual General Meetings

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