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Vaccine Monopolies Make Cost Of Vaccinating The World Against Covid At Least Five Times More Expensive Than It Could Be

vaccine monopolies make cost of vaccinating the world against covid at least five times more expensive than it could be
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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 USD$41 billion (NZD$58 billion) above
the estimated cost of production. Colombia, for example, has
potentially overpaid by as much as USD$375 million (NZD$539
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 USD$8.3 billion (NZD$11.9 billion) –
suggest these vaccines could be made for as little as
USD$1.20 (NZD$1.73) 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 has been supported by over 100
nations including New Zealand. 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 USD$0.80 (NZD$1.15) 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 USD$175
(NZD$251) 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:

  • Pfizer/
    BioNTech are charging their lowest reported price of
    USD$6.75 (NZD$9.70) to the African Union but this is still
    nearly 6 times more than the estimated potential production
    cost of this vaccine. One dose of the vaccine costs the same
    as Uganda spends per citizen on health in a whole
    year.
  • The highest reported price paid for
    Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines was paid by Israel at USD$28
    (NZD$40.26) a dose – nearly 24 times the potential
    production cost. Some reports suggest they paid even
    more.
  • The EU may have overpaid for their 1.96
    billion Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines by as much as
    €31 billion (NZD$52.8 billion).
  • Moderna has
    charged countries between 4 and 13 times the potential cost
    price of the vaccine and reportedly offered South Africa a
    price between USD$30-42 (NZD$43-58) a dose – nearly 15 times
    higher than the potential production cost.
  • Colombia,
    which has been badly affected by COVID, has been paying
    double the price paid by the USA for Moderna vaccines. For
    Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech combined, the country has
    potentially overpaid by as much as USD$375 million
    (NZD$539.2 million).
  • Senegal, a lower-income nation,
    said it paid around USD$4 million (NZD$5.7 million) for
    200,000 doses for Sinopharm vaccines, which equates to
    around USD$20 (NZD$28.8) a dose.
  • The UK alone has
    potentially paid £1.8 billion (NZD$3.6 billion) more than
    the cost of production for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines
    –enough money to pay every worker in its National Health
    Service a bonus of more than £1000
    (NZD$2000).

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
before
profits.”

© Scoop Media

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