Pharma firm criticised over pricing and for keeping monopoly control over vaccine and new Paxlovid pill
By Julia Kollewe
Pfizer has made nearly $26bn (£21bn) in revenues in the first three months of the year, the bulk from its Covid-19 vaccine and new pill to treat the virus, prompting fresh accusations of pandemic profiteering.
Covid vaccines have saved many lives around the world and relieved the pressure on health systems, but Pfizer has faced criticism over its vaccine pricing and its refusal to waive patent protection to enable others to make the jab.
Last week 35 campaigners from Global Justice Now, Act-Up London, Just Treatment and Stop Aids protested against what they call pandemic profiteering, and delivered wheelbarrows full of fake money to Pfizer’s UK headquarters in Surrey on the day of the company’s annual shareholder meeting.
The New York-based firm posted total sales of $25.7bn in the first quarter, up 77% from a year earlier. Of this, $13.2bn came from the Comirnaty jab it developed with Germany’s BioNTech, driven by global uptake including jabs for children over the age of five, and booster doses. Pfizer and BioNTech are also seeking US approval for the vaccine’s use in children from six months to four years old.
A further $1.5bn came from Paxlovid, a Covid pill for people who are at high risk of severe disease, including hospitalization or death. The treatment received emergency approval from the US regulator in late December and has been cleared by the UK and EU.
Pfizer has made tens of billions of dollars during the pandemic from its Covid-related products, as has the Boston-based biotech firm Moderna, which was loss-making until it started selling a Covid-19 vaccine.
Tim Bierley, a pharma campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “Throughout the pandemic, Pfizer has refused to share its technology and knowhow. Instead, it has maintained monopoly control over its vaccine and treatment, keeping a chokehold on global supply.
“Despite calls from campaigners to allow countries in the global south to manufacture their own vaccines and treatments, Pfizer continues to put profit over people’s health. Pfizer’s revenues almost doubled last year and now it looks like the company’s coffers are set to swell even further. At a time when millions still don’t have access to vaccines or treatments for Covid-19, this continued pandemic profiteering is harrowing.”
Pfizer’s revenues last year doubled to $81.3bn, and it expects to make record sales of $98bn to $102bn this year, half of which will come from Covid products – $32bn from Comirnaty and $22bn from Paxlovid.
On the issue of sharing intellectual property, Pfizer said others would struggle to produce its mRNA vaccine – one of only two on the market – arguing that “it is not as simple as sharing the ‘recipe’”. Manufacture of its vaccine involves more than 280 materials from 86 suppliers in 19 countries.
Other companies, led by AstraZeneca, Britain’s biggest drugmaker, and Johnson & Johnson, a big US firm, went down the not-for-profit route and priced their Covid vaccines at cost during the pandemic. Towards the end of last year, AstraZeneca moved away from its not-for-profit pricing in new contracts, but insists that it is still offering “equitable pricing”.
Pfizer said it also offered tiered pricing, with the wealthier nations paying in the range of about the cost of a takeaway meal, while the upper-middle-income countries were offered doses at roughly half that price and the low- and lower-middle-income countries were offered doses at a not-for-profit price.
In March, the company struck an agreement with Unicef to supply up to 4m treatment courses of Paxlovid to 95 low- and middle-income countries at a not-for-profit price.
Moderna has promised not to enforce its coronavirus vaccine patents in some low- and middle-income countries.
As published in The Guardian