At least nine people have become new billionaires since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to the excessive profits pharmaceutical corporations with monopolies on COVID vaccines are making.
This was the pronouncement of the People’s Vaccine Alliance ahead of a G20 leaders Global Health Summit this week.
The group said key members of the G20 are blocking moves to boost supply by ending companies’ monopoly control of vaccine production as COVID-19 continues to devastate lives in countries like India and Nepal.
Between them, the nine new billionaires have a combined net wealth of US$19.3 billion, enough to fully vaccinate all people in low-income countries 1.3 times, said the alliance in a statement.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance is a movement of health, humanitarian and human rights organizations, past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders and economists who advocate that COVID-19 vaccines are manufactured rapidly and at scale, as global common goods, free of intellectual property protections and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.
The group said poor countries most affected by the pandemic have received only 0.2 per cent of the global supply of vaccines because of the massive shortfall in available doses, despite being home to 10 per cent of the world’s population.
In addition, eight existing billionaires – who have extensive portfolios in the COVID-19 vaccine pharmaceutical corporations – have seen their combined wealth increase by US$32.2 billion, enough to fully vaccinate everyone in India.
Data cited by the alliance comes from an analysis of the annual Forbes Rich List published in April this year.
Campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance – whose members include Global Justice Now, Oxfam and UNAIDS, have analysed Forbes Rich List data to highlight the massive wealth being generated for a handful of people from vaccines which were largely public funded.
“What a testament to our collective failure to control this cruel disease that we quickly create new vaccine billionaires but totally fail to vaccinate the billions who desperately need to feel safe,” said Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, in a statement.
She said these billionaires “are the human face of the huge profits many pharmaceutical corporations are making from the monopoly they hold on these vaccines.”
Marriott said these vaccines were funded by public money and should be first and foremost a global public good, not a private profit opportunity.
“We need to urgently end these monopolies so that we can scale up vaccine production, drive down prices and vaccinate the world,” she added.
The alliance said vaccine billionaires are being created as stocks in pharmaceutical firms rise rapidly in expectation of huge profits from the COVID-19 vaccines.
The alliance warned that these monopolies allow pharmaceutical corporations total control over the supply and price of vaccines, pushing up their profits while making it harder for poor countries, in particular, to secure the stocks they need.
Earlier this month the US backed proposals by South Africa and India at the World Trade Organization to temporarily break up monopolies and lift the patents on COVID-19 vaccines.
The move got the support of over 100 developing countries, including Pope Francis, and in recent days countries like Spain have also declared their support and over 100 world leaders and Nobel laureates.
“Despite this, other rich nations, including the United Kingdom and Germany, are still blocking the proposal, putting the interest of pharmaceutical companies over what’s best for the world,” said the alliance in a statement.
The group listed among the new billionaires, who have cashed in on the success of COVID vaccines, the CEOs of Moderna and BioNTech, each with a wealth over US$4 billion or more.
The list also includes two of Moderna’s founding investors and the company’s chairman as well as the CEO of a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine.
The final three new vaccine billionaires on the list are all co-founders of the Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics.
“While the companies making massive profits from COVID vaccines are refusing to share their science and technology with others in order to increase the global vaccine supply, the world continues to face the very real risk of mutations that could render the vaccines we have ineffective and put everyone at risk all over again,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS.