Pfizer has already made a $975 million profit on their vaccine and expect to make $19 billion more in 2021. The world needs Covid-19 vaccines as a vital tool for fighting the pandemic; they should not be treated as a cash cow for private businesses.
Shortages in vaccine supply are not reflective of global manufacturing capacity. They are the result of immoral intellectual property laws that allow one company to maintain a monopoly on lifesaving technologies, even in a global emergency. Some pharma companies are simply waiting for results of their own clinical trials, while there are already proven vaccines they could be manufacturing. Generics companies are forced to sit on their hands while patents are in force. This is not an appropriate response to the urgency of the situation we are in.
This profit-focused system is slowing vaccine rollout, and making it impossible for developing countries to compete while rich countries hoard doses. This unjust distribution of vaccines will prolong the pandemic, and while the virus continues to circulate in poorer countries, there will be more opportunity for new strains to emerge that could potentially evade current vaccines. We have already seen in recent years how for-profit medicine worsened the AIDS crisis in African nations, and has resulted in ongoing shortages of the HPV vaccine in the developing world, which will lead to many preventable cases of cervical cancer.
Covid-19 vaccines have been given huge amounts of public funding for their development. For example, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was developed with the aid of €375 million in public funding. Moderna received over $2.5 billion in public funding for its vaccine. Governments have also agreed to indemnify pharma companies for liability arising from any rare side-effects. Pharmaceutical companies have thus assumed little risk at either the development phase or distribution phase of vaccine rollout. The burden of risk has been shouldered by taxpayers and clinical trial participants, and there is no rationale for allowing private companies to profit massively from what should be a global public good.
The fastest way to end the pandemic is for Covid-19 vaccines to be mass produced, using all of society’s collective resources, on an off‑patent, not for profit basis, and distributed first to where they are needed most. To allow this to happen, the governments should legislate to override private corporate interests to tackle this emergency.