Great Britain

Covid vaccine monopolies make global immunisation five times more expensive, study says

Vaccine monopolies are making the cost of vaccinating the world against Covid-19 much higher than it could be, a study has suggested.

The cost of providing vaccines on a global scale could be at least five times cheaper if pharmaceutical companies weren’t profiteering from their monopolies on coronavirus vaccines, campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance have suggested.

Analysis has suggested that the NHS could have saved at least £1.8 billion if it weren’t for pharma inflated prices.

Firms such as Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are apparently charging governments as much as $41 billion (£30 billion) more than the estimated cost of production for vaccines, the Alliance’s analysis has indicated.

This would mean that the UK could have potentially paid £1.8 billion more than the cost of production for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, a total which would equate to paying every NHS worker a bonus of over £1000.

It appears that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have sold 90 per cent of their vaccines so far to wealthy countries, while Covid-19 cases and death tolls from the virus continue to rise in the developing world.

Last week, Pfizer/BioNTech announced it would licence a South African company to fill and package 100 million doses for use in Africa.

Neither pharmaceutical company has, however, agreed to fully transfer vaccine technology and know-how with any capable producers in developing countries. If they were to do this, global supply could be potentially increased which would push down prices and save lives.

It would appear that vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which were developed thanks to public funding, could be made for as little as $1.20 a dose. Yet the COVAX scheme, set up to help poorer countries access Covid vaccines, has been paying on average five times more than this.

The COVAX scheme has also struggled to get enough doses of the vaccine at the required speed due to problems with supply and more wealthy countries taking the majority of the vaccine doses, willing to pay high prices for quick vaccinations.

The Alliance says that were it not for pharmaceutical monopolies on vaccines restricting supply and driving up prices, the money spent by COVAX to date could have been enough to fully vaccinate every person in Low and Middle-income countries.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance is made up of almost 70 organisations. These include the African Alliance, Oxfam and UNAIDS.

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.|

Meanwhile 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.”

Some more wealthy countries have begun to re-distribute a fraction of their excess doses to poorer nations. The People’s Vaccine Alliance do not feel this is enough and are calling on all governments to insist that all qualified manufacturers worldwide, especially those in developing countries, are able to produce Covid vaccines.

Governments should also urgently approve a waiver of intellectual property rules related to Covid-19 technologies as currently suggested by South Africa and India, the Alliance said.

The waiver has been supported by over 100 nations including the US and France, and has now entered formal negotiations at the World Trade Organisation.

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?”

She went on to call on governments worldwide to “put people before profits,” adding: “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.”

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