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:
NOTES TO THE EDITOR