The three largest producers of Covid-19 vaccines could have funded the entire cost of vaccinating Africa with the money they paid stockholders this year – and vaccine-sharing charity COVAX isn’t bridging the gap, analysis shows.
Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca, the three top producers of Covid-19 vaccines, could fund the vaccination of the entire continent of Africa, some 1.3 billion people, vaccine advocacy group the People’s Vaccine Alliance revealed on Thursday.
Or rather, they could have funded all those jabs if they hadn’t spent that money to pay out $26 billion in stock buybacks and dividends to their shareholders. The vaccines have largely been sold to wealthy countries, netting Pfizer/BioNTech and fellow mRNA vaccine producer Moderna a whopping $33.5 billion, and many of the recipient countries bought so many extra shots that their citizens are – in the case of Canada, at least – expected to be covered as many as five or more times over.
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Many of the frontrunner companies promised to pick up the cost of vaccinating less wealthy nations in the early days of the vaccine research, a promise which helped secure funding from governments and charitable initiatives. However, touting their unusually charitable behavior in the early days of vaccine purchasing and development has largely evaporated now that the moneyed West has its supplies locked down and third world countries are finally able to get in line for theirs. Pfizer and its colleagues are starting to talk about upping their prices again – “once we get beyond the pandemic environment,” in the words of chairman Albert Bourla.
Given that infection and death rates for Covid-19 in Africa never reached the level of a “global disaster,” early on in the epidemic, it seems they’re plotting to gouge the entire continent for a medicine it doesn’t need nearly as badly as other countries, except in the eyes of the WHO. Given the continent’s familiarity with less expensive drugs like chloroquine – a familiar and comparatively safe remedy for malaria – many doctors had already been using that off-patent formulation rather than twiddling their thumbs and watching patients die for months awaiting the arrival of the much-lauded Western miracle vaccine.
With vaccine passports now looming in the future, however, many Africans face the steep prices of not just second or third “booster” shots but the initial shots themselves – all sold at full price. For countries dealing with a full plate of equally if not more deadly diseases, being told their inhabitants can’t travel without getting a jab for Covid-19 comes off as wildly unfair.
To make matters worse, the US and members of the EU have already banded together to block a legal loophole that would have allowed an exception to a World Trade Organization rule permitting pharma companies – their much-sought-after products funded in large part by government cash – to share their vaccine formulas with generic drugmakers. This measure would allow impoverished nations to quickly and cheaply inoculate their residents, treasured vaccine recipes in hand, but it would take some of the profits out of Pfizer and its friends’ pockets – and thus must not be permitted, in the eyes of the Western nations these companies call home. (RT)
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