Pfizer faces scrutiny over scale of Covid profits


Pfizer has won plaudits for its Covid vaccine delivery program, but the US multinational faces growing scrutiny over the scale of its profits and the proportion of doses it has delivered to low-income countries, The Guardian reported.

While AstraZeneca agreed to sell its vaccine at cost during the pandemic, Pfizer wanted to secure its profits. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which now has the brand name Comirnaty, will be one of the most lucrative drugs in pharmaceutical history, the report said.

Pfizer is accused by a former senior US health official of “war profiteering” during the pandemic. In a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation to be broadcast this week, Tom Frieden, who was director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Barack Obama, said: “If you’re just focusing on maximizing your profits and you’re a vaccine manufacturer… you are war profiteering.”

Zain Rizvi, research director at Public Citizen, a US consumer advocacy organization that has examined Pfizer’s global vaccine contracts, said: “There is a wall of secrecy surrounding these contracts and it’s unacceptable, particularly in a public health crisis.”

A report last month by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of organizations including aid charities, said Pfizer and other drug firms have sold the majority of doses to rich countries, leaving low-income countries “out in the cold”.

Only 2 percent of people in low-income countries had been fully vaccinated against coronavirus. Drug firms should suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, tests, treatments and other medical tools.

Pfizer has faced increased scrutiny allegations of excessive global profits after its partner, the biotechnology company BioNTech, announced in September 2020 it was to receive up to 375m euros from the German government to fund vaccine development, the report said.

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s health policy manager said: “It is deplorable that billions of people around the world are being denied vaccines so that pharmaceutical companies can make obscene profits. Given that public investment was crucial to vaccine development, it’s incomprehensible that pharma monopolies are being prioritized over people’s lives”, The Guardian reported.

Pfizer has to date pledged 40m doses out of global production to Covax, the UN-backed initiative delivering vaccines for low income countries. This is less than 2 percent of its global production for 2021. The firm says it aims to deliver at least two billion doses to low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2022.

Pfizer said vaccine production was the “biggest scale-up” in the firm’s history and it was proud to have delivered more than 2bn vaccines to 162 countries. It supplied low-income countries on a not-for-profit price and all other countries were being offered the vaccine at a significantly discounted price.

The company added: “The pandemic has highlighted the extraordinary value that a vibrant private sector can deliver to society.” It said confidentiality agreements were standard practice. The estimated cost of manufacturing the vaccine by a biological engineering expert was grossly inaccurate and meaningless because it did not reflect the true costs of bringing the vaccine to patients, including clinical studies, increased manufacturing efforts and global distribution.