When people heard that a vaccine for COVID-19 might have a 90% success rate, there was a great sense of relief. It also made Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, a very wealthy man. On the day that his company of the announcement, he sold shares worth $5.6 million.
Nothing better summarises the contradictions at the heart of modern capitalism. Pfizer’s vaccine has been developed with a German company, BioNTech SE, which received €400 million from the German state.
Despite receiving public funds, Pfizer intends to charge for its vaccine – and there is no guarantee it will be affordable. Another company, Moderna, which is close to making a similar vaccine has stated that it will be charging $74 for the necessary two doses.
Currently, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -80 Celsius which will require a major investment in cold storage. Many poor countries will be unable to provide such facilities. Even in wealthier countries, the distribution of the vaccine will require major public investment.
Despite the pandemic, the intellectual property rules of late capitalism have not been suspended. The World Health Organisation has called for a ‘patent pool’ whereby there was public disclosure of gene sequencing research and clinical trial results. This would enable generic producers to make the vaccine at near cost prices – particularly if they were publicly owned.
Big Pharma have refused to heed these calls and are determined to make enormous profits from a new virus. Yet the irony is that they were advised by scientists to start research on corona virus in the past but only four companies did so before the outbreak.
It is only when huge levels of public money became available that Big Pharma started the research – and it now wants to restrict the scientific knowledge that could save many lives.
People Before Profit wants:
- The suspension of all Intellectual Property restrictions.
- Free access to vaccines for everyone
- Public control of production and distribution of the vaccines.