Huge profits call into question vaccine non-profit statements

August 18, 2021 | 13:05
Amid global campaigners’ claims of profiteering taking place surrounding COVID-19 vaccines, the largest vaccine producers are resolute that affordable vaccines are being offered to the public on a not-for-profit basis.
Huge profits call into question vaccine non-profit statements
Major vaccine producers are noting that they have invested billions of dollars in trying to end the pandemic. Photo: Le Toan

As the world’s largest healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson has entered into an agreement with public-private health partnership Gavi to supply up to 200 million doses of the J&J single-shot vaccine to COVAX Facility by the end of 2021.

“At this time, our focus is on supporting emergency pandemic use on a not-for-profit basis around the world and meeting our current 2021 supply commitments,” a company representative told VIR. “J&J remains fully committed to providing affordable vaccines to the public depending on local regulatory authorisation and direct procurement agreements with governments. We welcome the recent emergency-use authorisation of the vaccine in Vietnam.”

The representative added that J&J is working tirelessly on additional manufacturing sites. “Collaboration will be key to accelerating our progress. It will be critical to partner with national governments, international bodies, and regional networks to supply this vaccine as quickly as possible,” he said.

J&J gave the statement following accusations from campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance – which includes nearly 70 organisations such as the African Alliance, Oxfam, and UN AIDS – in late July, countering the claim that pharma groups are profiteering from monopolies on COVID-19 vaccines.

New analysis by the group named J&J, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Moderna among the producers whose monopolies have raised the cost of global vaccinations many times over.

Like J&J, US pharma giant Pfizer asserted that the company has a deep sense of responsibility to make its vaccine broadly available.

“Pfizer will consider all viable options and mechanisms to ensure that its vaccine and any potential treatment options are accessible for those who need it,” a Pfizer representative told VIR.

According to the representative the incentives provided by the intellectual property system enable Pfizer to gain the skills necessary to address the pandemic and quickly collaborate with its partners.

“During the pandemic, instead of using a traditional cost-effectiveness approach, we have priced our vaccines so that we can help governments to ensure that there is little to no costs for their populations. Broad access is important – speed, safety, and availability are driving us. Our pricing strategy is based on volume, advance commitments, equity, and affordability principles,” the Pfizer representative said.

“Low and lower middle-income countries will pay a not-for-profit price. It is important to note that our vaccine development and costs have been entirely self-funded, and we have already invested billions of dollars in an effort to find a solution to this pandemic,” he added.

As such, Pfizer has committed to work closely with governments around the world to bring its vaccine to those who need it most, according to the representative. The company is positioned to deliver approximately three billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the world by the end of the year.

Before the pandemic, developing countries paid a median price of 80 US cents for a dose of non-COVID vaccines, according to analysis by the World Health Organization. While all vaccines are different and the new vaccines may not be directly comparable, even one of the cheapest COVID-19 vaccines on the market, Oxford/AstraZeneca, is nearly four times more expensive.

The J&J vaccine is 13 times more expensive, and the most expensive vaccines – such as Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and the Chinese Sinopharm – are up to 50 times more costly.

These high prices could limit access to vaccines amid a rapid rise of cases and casualties across the developing world.

Despite the repeated calls from developing countries to break the vaccine monopolies that could drive up production, no agreement has been made thus far.

Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J made big gains in the first half of 2021 and are expected to gain more in the upcoming months. J&J now expects a full-year profit of up to $9.60 per share, compared with its previous forecast of up to $9.45 per share. It expects revenues between $92.5 billion and $93.3 billion, and further expects to sell $2.5 billion of its COVID-19 vaccine this year.

Meanwhile, Pfizer hopes to gain revenues of around $33.5 billion for the 2.1 billion doses the company contracted to provide by the end of the year. Pfizer now expects adjusted full-year earnings in the range of $3.95 to $4.05 per share, up from its May 2021 forecast of up to $3.65 per share, and revenue in the range of $78 billion to $80 billion, up from $70.5 billion to $72.5 billion.

By Thuy Nguyen

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