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Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Merck shareholders must vote to end unequal access to COVID-19 vaccines and medicines


Oxfam America urges Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck shareholders to vote in support of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and medicines so that everyone, everywhere can be protected against the coronavirus.

Oxfam shareholder resolutions to encourage Pfizer and Moderna to study the feasibility of transferring their mRNA vaccine intellectual property (IP) and technical know-how to ensure timely, reliable access to lifesaving vaccines are being voted on at the Annual General Meetings of the two corporations. The companies have already been warned that the financial and public health impacts of inequitable distribution of these technologies is a concern for many of their shareholders – similar resolutions filed last year received nearly 30% of the independent shareholder vote.

“We are in a fourth year of the COVID-19 pandemic and still access to coronavirus vaccines like Pfizer’s remains grossly inequitable,” said Ady Barkan, Founder and Co-Executive Director of Be A Hero, who presented the Oxfam America resolution to Pfizer shareholders this year and last. “When I presented this resolution last year, I said Pfizer was complicit in exacerbating this vaccine inequity and that remains true today. Vaccine inequality and short-term greed costs lives and trillions of dollars in economic damage.”

In different resolutions filed with Johnson & Johnson and Merck, Oxfam urges shareholders to vote for transparency on how significant public funding from US taxpayers – billions for Johnson & Johnson, and millions for Merck – factors into pricing and access decisions by the two corporations. Similar resolutions last year received more than a third of the vote.

“Everyone, whether rich or poor, Black or white, young or old must have the same opportunity to receive lifesaving vaccines. But only 25% of people in low-income countries are now fully vaccinated, compared to the 75% of those in high-income countries,” said Dr. Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, who presented the resolution to Johnson & Johnson shareholders. “Companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, which have received massive public funding, must not only ensure universal access, but have an obligation to account to the public for the ways in which their taxes have been spent and in particular to be transparent about pricing and access strategies.”

Big Pharma has profited enormously during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of the four companies currently rank in the top 20 globally by revenue and together they pocketed more than $70 billion in dividends and share buybacks over the last two years. Sales of just their COVID-19 products alone have totaled more than $140 billion over the same period, while the world is still racked by deep inequity in accessing lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, putting people’s lives, public health, and the global economy at risk.

Given these massive earnings, it is past time for these companies to step up and strengthen the public’s ability to benefit from COVID-19 products, according to Oxfam. The sustainable solution to improve global access, affordability, and accountability for lifesaving COVID-19 tools is for Big Pharma to share their technology, boost local manufacturing, and be much more transparent about their drug pricing, public funding, and access decisions.

“As a nurse, my responsibility is to save my patients’ lives. We know that COVID-19 vaccines work—they save lives. What has failed is a system that prioritizes private profit over patients’ lives, public health, and the health of the global economy,” said George Poe Williams from the National Health Workers Union of Liberia, who will address Moderna shareholders in support of the Oxfam America resolution. “Moderna received billions of dollars in public support for its vaccine yet it has turned its back on the public by refusing calls to do more to share its IP and technology. As a result of the company’s failure to ensure equitable access and plans for even higher prices in countries like the US, its reputation is in tatters.”


Notes to the editor:

At last year’s shareholder meetings, the Oxfam resolution before Moderna shareholders received 24% of the nominal vote, or 29% of the independent vote factoring in the 17% of the vote share owned by the company's directors and senior executives. The resolution before Pfizer shareholders garnered 27% of the vote. The resolution before J&J shareholders received 34% of the vote, and the one before Merck received 36%.

According to an analysis by FiercePharma of 2022 pharmaceutical company revenues, Pfizer ranked #1. Johnson & Johnson ranked #2, Merck ranked #4 and Moderna ranked #18.

Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck COVID-19 product revenues and total share buybacks and dividends expenditures in 2021 and 2022 combined

Pfizer share buybacks & dividends: $19.7 billion, COVID-19 product revenues: $94 billion

Moderna share buybacks & dividends: $4.1 billion, COVID-19 product revenues: $36.3 billion

Johnson & Johnson share buybacks & dividends $32.2 billion, COVID-19 product revenues: $4.6 billion

Merck share buybacks & dividends: $14.7 billion, COVID-19 product revenues: $6.6 billion

Sources: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Merck

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