Leading Pharmaceutical Corporations Must Commit to Free, Fair, Accessible COVID-19 Vaccine

By Oxfam

Corporations leading the way in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine have yet to make the necessary commitments to deliver a vaccine that is free, fair, and accessible to all, warned Oxfam today.

In a new analysis, Oxfam looked at the commitments made by the leading COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers -- AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Merck and Co., and Pfizer -- on key areas of vaccine access and equity. While some companies have made notable commitments, major gaps remain to ensuring everyone, everywhere can access a COVID-19 vaccine. Oxfam calls on governments, especially the US government, to do more to protect people from this disastrous pandemic and deliver a people’s vaccine.

“A safe and effective vaccine can be a way out of this COVID nightmare, but only if it is available and affordable to everyone,” said Niko Lusiani, Senior Advisor with Oxfam America. “With so many lives on the line, now is not time for Big Pharma to double down on their usual business model of making billions from taxpayer-funded research, charging sky-high prices, and funneling profits to rich investors.”

Oxfam looked at the commitments publicly made by the five corporations in five key areas: transparency about production costs and terms of vaccine deals, vaccine price, fair distribution -- within and between countries -- as well as commitments around sharing of intellectual property, technology and the know-how required to stimulate mass production. AstraZeneca, in partnership with Oxford University, has gone the furthest, with commitments for the lowest prices and the widest production and technology transfer network around the world. But many gaps remain. None of the companies are transparent about the terms and conditions of the outsized government contracts they’ve entered into, and none are transparent about the true cost of R&D and manufacturing of its vaccine candidate. No companies have yet agreed to share their intellectual property, technology and know-how with the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool to expand supply and lower cost.

As a result, after more than $10 billion of US taxpayer dollars committed to pharmaceutical corporations to develop the COVID-19 vaccine, there's still no guarantee that everyone will even be able to afford it, or even that there will be enough to go around. Given the fact that the US government remains the world's largest investor in the development and manufacturing of a new COVID-19 vaccine, it has a special responsibility to step up.

"Company goodwill alone will not lead us out of the pandemic, governments must step in to ensure a people's vaccine,” said Lusiani. “Since US taxpayers are world's largest investor in the development and manufacturing of a new COVID-19 vaccine, we as Americans have a responsibility to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to this life-saving technology, free of monopoly control."

In contrast to this aim, Oxfam points out that rich countries, including the US, continue to hoard more than half of the vaccines developed by these five companies. Looking at Pfizer’s vaccine, for example, the US, with only 4% of the world’s population, has already cornered almost 50% of the company’s total expected supply in 2021.

“Getting a shot at a recovery from this global nightmare requires everyone to have access to the vaccine irrespective of location or ability to pay,” concluded Lusiani. “A people’s vaccine – one that is available to all – is a public health necessity, an economic priority, and a moral imperative.”

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