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Pharmaceutical corporations charge excessive prices for COVID-19 vaccines
by Amnesty, Oxfam, UNAIDS, agencies
The People’s Vaccine Alliance
Sep. 2021
End Vaccine Apartheid, by Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram. (IPS)
Vaccine costs have pushed many developing countries to the end of the COVID-19 vaccination queue, with most low-income ones not even lining up. Worse, less vaccinated poor nations cannot afford fiscal efforts to provide relief or stimulate recovery, let alone achieve Agenda 2030.
Developing countries now account for more than 85% of global pandemic deaths. By early September, The Economist estimated actual COVID-19 deaths worldwide at 15.2 million, rather than the official 4.6 million.
In six of the ten countries with the highest fatality rates, less than a tenth of their populations were fully vaccinated as of 10 August. In the other four, no more than a third were fully vaccinated.
Now, as rich nations buy up more vaccines for third shots, vaccination inequities are becoming starker. Buying up hundreds of millions of doses, they penalise poorer countries already doubly deprived. Rich countries will likely have about 1.2 billion extra doses by the end of 2021.
More than 5.41 billion vaccine shots have been administered worldwide, with 81% in only ten high and upper middle-income countries. Meanwhile, the poorest countries have only received 0.4%.
In January, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General (DG) warned, “I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries”.
In early July, Pfizer and BioNTech announced plans to get emergency authorisation for booster vaccine doses. Pfizer then met with US officials to press their case, while Moderna applied for approval this month.
Following the Israeli President’s third shot on 30 July, nearly a million boosters have been administered in the US since 12 August despite earlier official hesitation. US President Joe Biden expects to launch a campaign for a further 100 million booster shots on 20 September.
France began administering boosters to people over 65 from September. The UK has announced offering a third dose from late September. Germany, Belgium and other European countries followed suit.
Now, supply will decline further as Pfizer and Moderna sell booster doses. Two new Pfizer-BioNTech facilities have been approved to manufacture boosters in France and Germany.
Meanwhile, Moderna is scaling up booster production in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Almost all the 3.2 billion Pfizer and Moderna doses to be produced this year have already been purchased by the US and Europe.
The WHO DG lambasted this “scandalous inequity” at the World Health Assembly in May. The WHO has repeatedly called for delaying booster provision, arguing that the most vulnerable people worldwide should be vaccinated first.
Pfizer and Moderna have not provided details of their booster prices. An economist has estimated: “Sold at present prices, this would represent roughly a 50% increase in revenue over the longer run”.
Moderna raised its 2021 vaccine sales forecast for its first two doses to US$19.2 billion in May. So, booster sales should add about US$10 billion. Meanwhile, Pfizer raised its own forecast by more than 70% to US$26 billion, with booster sales bringing US$13 billion more.
Rich countries’ practices actually go against most scientific advice. The case for boosters is not scientifically established. Most scientists do not agree that boosters are the best way to deal with new threats. Citing lack of credible data, scientists have opposed boosters in reputable journals, including Nature.
On 6 August, the European Union’s drugs regulator noted not enough evidence to recommend COVID-19 vaccine boosters. A European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control report this month affirmed, “there is no urgent need” for booster shots except for those in frail health.
The WHO noted on 18 August that current evidence does not support the case for booster shots. Scientists described official decisions approving third booster shots as “shocking” and “criminal”. When US authorities approved boosters, two top vaccine officials quit in protest.
Independent research on Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine suggests it provides long-term immunity for years, contrary to the company’s latest claims. Also using mRNA technology, Moderna’s vaccine should have similar longer-term efficacy.
As COVID-19 vaccines are still new, such expectations remain subject to confirmation. As with most vaccines, ‘memory response’ triggers antibody protection when someone vaccinated is infected, even after natural response levels have waned.
Perhaps most worryingly, as big pharmaceutical companies transform their business strategies to generate more profits from boosters, their incentives change. They have less reason to develop vaccines fully immunizing against the COVID-19 virus, or even to ensure that everyone is vaccinated.
Supplying boosters reduces vaccines available to others. Supplies to poorer countries have already been greatly reduced by rich countries securing many times more than what their populations need.
Some have even abused COVAX, purportedly designed for equitable distribution to poorer countries. COVAX aimed to deliver a billion vaccine doses in 2021, but had only delivered 217 million by August, according to UNICEF.
Meanwhile, many rich country governments continue to block the request to the World Trade Organization to temporarily suspend COVID-19 related intellectual property rights. This waiver would enable developing countries to affordably produce tests, vaccines, treatments, equipment and other such needs.
Earlier, Big Pharma leaders rejected as “nonsense” WHO’s C-TAP initiative to share technologies and research knowledge to accelerate affordable production of and access to such technologies.
There is also a practical reason to seek vaccine equity. We are all safer when everyone is vaccinated. New, more vaccine-resistant variants are emerging, endangering everyone.
Rich countries protecting their own citizens will not prevent new mutants from emerging. New infections risk triggering a resurgence, or worse, with new, more dangerous mutations.
The Delta variant, first reported in India in late 2020, surged in March as few there had been vaccinated. Ironically, the Serum Institute of India has the world’s largest vaccine production capacity by far, but largely underutilised for COVID-19 vaccines.
The IMF warns highly infectious variants could derail economic recovery, cutting global output by US$4.5 trillion by 2025. But the Economist Intelligence Unit estimated the world economy could lose US$2.3 trillion in 2021 alone due to delayed vaccinations, with developing nations losing most.
For the WHO DG, “Vaccine inequity is the world’s biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and recovering from COVID-19….Economically, epidemiologically and morally, it is in all countries’ best interest to use the latest available data to make lifesaving vaccines available to all”.
Aug. 2021
Pharmaceutical corporations charge excessive prices for COVID-19 vaccines
The cost of vaccinating the world against COVID-19 could be at least five times cheaper if pharmaceutical companies weren’t profiteering from their monopolies on COVID-19 vaccines, campaigners from The People’s Vaccine Alliance said today.
New analysis by the Alliance shows that the firms Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are charging governments as much as $41 billion above the estimated cost of production. Colombia, for example, has potentially overpaid by as much as $375 million for its doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, in comparison to the estimated cost price.
Despite a rapid rise in COVID cases and deaths across the developing world, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have sold over 90 percent of their vaccines so far to rich countries, charging up to 24 times the potential cost of production.
Last week Pfizer/BioNTech announced it would licence a South African company to fill and package 100 million doses for use in Africa, but this is a drop in the ocean of need. Neither company have agreed to fully transfer vaccine technology and know-how with any capable producers in developing countries, a move that could increase global supply, drive down prices and save millions of lives.
Analysis of production techniques for the leading mRNA type vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna ―which were only developed thanks to public funding to the tune of $8.3 billion― suggest these vaccines could be made for as little as $1.20 a dose. Yet COVAX, the scheme set up to help countries get access to COVID vaccines, has been paying, on average, nearly five times more.
COVAX has also struggled to get enough doses and at the speed required, because of the inadequate supply and the fact that rich nations have pushed their way to the front of the queue by willingly paying excessive prices.
Without pharmaceutical monopolies on vaccines restricting supply and driving up prices, the Alliance says the money spent by COVAX to date could have been enough to fully vaccinate every person in low- and middle-income countries with cost-price vaccines, if there was enough supply. Instead at best COVAX will vaccinate 23 percent by end of 2021.
The Alliance of nearly 70 organisations, including the African Alliance, Oxfam and UNAIDS, says the failure of some rich countries to back the removal of monopolies and to drive down these excessive prices has directly contributed to vaccine scarcity in poorer nations.
Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, said: “Pharmaceutical companies are holding the world to ransom at a time of unprecedented global crisis. This is perhaps one of the most lethal cases of profiteering in history.
“Precious budgets that could be used for building more health facilities in poorer countries are instead being raided by CEOs and shareholders of these all-powerful corporations.”
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS said: “Health workers are dying on the frontline all over the world every single day. Uganda alone lost more than fifty health workers in just two weeks. A reminder of the time when millions of people were dying of HIV in developing countries because the medicines that could save them were priced too high.
“I see lives being saved in vaccinated countries, even as the Delta variant spreads, and I want the same for developing countries. It is criminal that the majority of humanity is still facing this cruel disease unprotected because Pharma monopolies and super profits are being put first.”
While some rich countries have started to re-distribute a fraction of their excess doses and have made funding commitments, this charity is not enough to fix the global vaccine supply problems.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance is calling on all governments to insist that the vaccine technology is transferred ―to enable all qualified manufacturers worldwide, especially those in developing countries, to produce these vaccines.
Governments should also urgently approve a waiver of intellectual property rules related to COVID-19 technologies as proposed by South Africa and India.
The waiver, which has been supported by over 100 nations including the US and France has now entered formal negotiations at the World Trade Organisation that met again this week. But the proposal has been repeatedly blocked by Germany, the UK and the European Union.
Maaza Seyoum, from the African Alliance and People’s Vaccine Alliance Africa, said: “Enabling developing country manufacturers to produce vaccines is the fastest and surest way to ramp up supply and dramatically drive down prices. When this was done for HIV treatment, we saw prices drop by up to 99 percent.
“What possible reason then do the governments of the UK, Germany and EU have to ignore the repeated calls from developing countries to break the vaccine monopolies that could drive up production while driving down price?”
Less than one percent of people in low-income countries have received a vaccine, while the profits made by the companies has seen the CEOs of Moderna and BioNTech become billionaires.
Before the pandemic, developing countries paid a median price of $0.80 a dose for all non-COVID vaccines, according to analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO).
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 this price; the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is 13 times; and the most expensive vaccines, such as Pfizer/ BioNTech, Moderna and the Chinese produced Sinopharm, are up to 50 times higher.
It is vital that vaccine manufacturers are forced to justify why their vaccines cost more, but open competition is also critical to bring down prices and increase supply. All vaccines, old and new, only come down in price once there are multiple competitors in the market.
Never in history have governments been buying more doses of vaccines for one disease and the large-scale production should drive down costs, enabling companies to charge lower prices.
Yet the EU reportedly paid even higher prices for its second order from Pfizer/BioNTech. Dramatic price escalation is predicted to continue in the absence of government action and with the possibility of booster shots being required for years to come.
The CEO of Pfizer has suggested potential future prices of as much as $175 per dose ―148 times more than the potential cost of production. And because pharmaceutical companies anticipate charging such high prices for boosters, they will continue to sell doses to rich countries at the expense of protecting lives globally.
In a briefing note, published today, The People’s Vaccine Alliance highlighted examples of how much both developing and wealthier nations have been potentially overpaying:
Pfizer/ BioNTech are charging their lowest reported price of $6.75 to the African Union but this is still nearly 6 times more than the estimated potential production cost of this vaccine. One dose of the vaccine costs the same as Uganda spends per citizen on health in a whole year.
The highest reported price paid for Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines was paid by Israel at $28 a dose ―nearly 24 times the potential production cost.
The EU may have overpaid for their 1.96 billion Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines by as much as €31 billion.
Moderna has charged countries between 4 and 13 times the potential cost price of the vaccine and reportedly offered South Africa a price between $30-42 a dose ―nearly 15 times higher than the potential production cost.
Colombia, which has been badly affected by COVID, has been paying double the price paid by the US for Modernavaccines. For Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech combined, the country has potentially overpaid by as much as $375 million.
Senegal, a lower-income nation, said it paid around $4 million for 200,000 doses for Sinopharm vaccines, which equates to around $20 a dose.
The UK alone has potentially paid £1.8 billion more than the cost of production for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines ―enough money to pay every worker in its National Health Service (NHS) a bonus of more than £1000.
Maaza Seyoum said: “As long as the pharmaceutical corporations retain their monopolies on the life-saving technology, they will always prioritise contracts where they can make the most excessive profits, leaving developing countries out in the cold.
“With government budgets in crisis the world over, and COVID cases rising in many developing countries, it’s time to stop subsidising corporate fat cats. It’s time to put people before profits.”

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The Pegasus Project: A Worldwide Collaboration to Counter a Global Crime
by Forbidden Stories, Amnesty, news agencies
July 2021
The Pegasus Project: A Worldwide Collaboration to Counter a Global Crime, by Laurent Richard and Sandrine Rigaud
Today, for the first time in the history of modern spying, we are seeing the faces of the victims of targeted cyber-surveillance. This is a worldwide scandal – a global web of surveillance whose scope is without precedent.
The attack is invisible. Once “infected,” your phone becomes your worst enemy. From within your pocket, it instantly betrays your secrets and delivers your private conversations, your personal photos, nearly everything about you. This surveillance has dramatic and in some cases even life-threatening consequences for the ordinary men and women who have been targeted for their work exposing the misdeeds of their rulers or defending the rights of their fellow citizens.
All of these individuals were targeted by states using the same spyware tool, “Pegasus,” sold by the NSO Group.
Our mission at Forbidden Stories is to pursue – collaboratively – the work of threatened, jailed or assassinated journalists.
For the Pegasus Project, we investigated this new threat against press freedom for months, working alongside more than 80 journalists from 17 media organizations.
This investigation began with enormous leak of documents that Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International had access to. In this list of more than 50,000 selected as targets by clients of NSO Group, we even found the names of some of our colleagues, journalists we had worked with on past investigations.
But the scale of this scandal could only be uncovered by journalists around the world working together. By sharing access to this data with the other media organisations in the Forbidden Stories consortium, we were able to develop additional sources, collect hundreds of documents and put together the harrowing evidence of a surveillance apparatus that has been wielded ferociously against large swaths of civil society – outside of all legal restrictions.
Among the targets: human rights defenders, political opponents, lawyers, diplomats, and heads of state – not to mention almost 200 journalists from nearly two dozen countries. Some are local reporters, others renowned television anchors.
Many investigate corruption and political scandals that threaten the highest levels of power. Most already face censorship and intimidation. But few of them could have imagined having been the target of such an invisible and invasive form of surveillance.
The list of journalists hacked by Pegasus is long: award-winning Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova; reporter Szabolcs Panyi from Direkt36, an Hungarian investigative media outlet, freelance Morrocan journalist Hicham Mansouri; the director of the French investigative site Mediapart Edwy Plenel; and the founders of the Indian independent media The Wire, one of the few news organizations in the country that does not rely on money from private business entities.
For NSO Group’s government clients, Pegasus is the perfect weapon to “kill the story”. Invasive surveillance of journalists and activists is not simply an attack on those individuals – it is a way to deprive millions of citizens of independent information about their own governments.
When they hack a journalist’s phone, they are able to extract the most sensitive information that it holds. What was that journalist working on? Who are their sources? Where are they stashing their documents? Who are their loved ones? What private information could be used to blackmail and defame them?
Journalists have long thought that new technologies – the armada of encrypted communications that they rely on – were their allies, critical blockades against censorship.
With the existence of cyber surveillance tools as advanced as Pegasus, they have been brutally awoken to the fact that the greatest threats are hiding in the places they once thought to be the safest.
The Pegasus Project poses important questions about the privatization of the surveillance industry and the lack of global safeguards for everyday citizens.
When a threat as large as this emerges, imperiling fundamental rights like the right to free speech, journalists need to come together. If one reporter is threatened or killed, another can take over and ensure that the story is not silenced.
Forty-five years ago, the first collaborative journalism project was launched after the murder of Don Bolles, a journalist in Phoenix, Arizona. In 2018, Forbidden Stories coordinated the Daphne Project in the wake of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta.
We have continued to pursue the work of journalists who have been murdered for their work – whether that was investigating environmental scandals or tracking Mexican drug cartels – alongside dozens of news organizations.
The collaboration of journalists from around the world is without a doubt one of the best defenses against these violent attacks on global democracy.

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