Six companies at the helm of the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out are fuelling an unprecedented human rights crisis through their refusal to waive intellectual property rights and share vaccine technology, with most failing to prioritise vaccine deliveries to poorer countries, say Amnesty International.
In a new report, A Double Dose of Inequality: Pharma companies and the Covid-19 vaccines crisis, the organization assessed six of the companies that hold the fate of billions of people in their hands: AstraZeneca plc, BioNTech SE, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Inc., Novavax, Inc. and Pfizer, Inc. It paints a dismal picture of an industry that is woefully failing to respect human rights.
“Vaccinating the world is our only pathway out of this crisis. It should be time to hail these companies, who created vaccines so quickly, as heroes. But instead, to their shame and our collective grief, Big Pharma’s intentional blocking of knowledge transfer and their wheeling and dealing in favor of wealthy states has brewed an utterly predictable and utterly devastating vaccine scarcity for so many others” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Its plunging parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia into renewed crises, pushing weakened health systems to the very brink and causing tens of thousands of preventable deaths every week. In many low-income countries not even health workers and people at-risk have received the vaccine.”
“Against the backdrop of these gross inequalities BioNTech, Moderna and Pfizer are set to make US$130 billion combined by the end of 2022. Profits should never come before lives.”
Failing to meet human rights responsibilities
In order to assess their response to the crisis, Amnesty International reviewed each company’s human rights policy, vaccine pricing structure, their records on intellectual property, knowledge and technology sharing, the fair allocation of available vaccine doses, and transparency. It found that to differing degrees, the six vaccine developers had failed to meet their human rights responsibilities.
Out of 5.76 billion doses administered worldwide, a paltry 0.3% have gone to low-income countries with over 79% going to upper-middle and high-income countries. Despite calls to prioritise and collaborate with COVAX Facility, the international instrument aiming to ensure a fair global vaccine allocation, some of the assessed companies have continued to stock up vaccine supplies for states known to be hoarding the vaccine.
All the companies assessed have so far refused to take part in internationally coordinated initiatives designed to boost global supply by sharing knowledge and technology. They have also opposed proposals to temporarily lift intellectual property rights, such as the World Trade Organization Trade Related Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPS) Waiver proposed by India and South Africa.
Further findings included:
- Pfizer and BioNTech have so far delivered nine times more vaccines to Sweden alone than to all low-income countries combined – less than 1% of their production so far. High prices mean the companies are set to earn over $86 billion in revenues by the end of 2022.
- Moderna has not yet delivered a single vaccine dose to a low-income country, has provided just 12% of its vaccines to lower-middle income countries, and will not deliver the vast majority of its orders for COVAX until 2022. Higher prices mean it is set to earn over $47bn in revenues by the end of 2022
- Johnson & Johnson has developed the world’s only single dose vaccine and sells at cost price, yet it will not deliver the vast majority of its commitments to COVAX and the African Union until 2022. They have also refused to grant a license to a Canadian manufacturer offering to manufacture millions more doses.
- Astrazeneca has delivered the most vaccines to lower income countries, sells at cost price, and has issued some voluntary licenses to other manufacturers. However, it has refused to openly share its knowledge and technology with WHO initiatives and has opposed the TRIPS Waiver.
- Novavax has yet to be approved for use, but currently plans to provide almost two-thirds of its production to supply COVAX. However, like others, it has refused to share its knowledge and technology and has opposed the TRIPS Waiver.
Despite most companies receiving billions of dollars in government funding and advance orders, vaccine developers have monopolized intellectual property, blocked technology transfers, and lobbied aggressively against measures that would expand the global manufacturing of these vaccines. Their continued inaction has caused human rights harms suffered by the billions of people still unable to access a lifesaving Covid-19 vaccine.
“Today marks 100 days until the end of the year. We’re calling on states and pharmaceutical companies to drastically change course and to do everything needed to deliver 2 billion vaccines to low and lower-middle income countries starting now. No one should spend another year suffering and living in fear,” said Agnès Callamard.
To coincide with the publication of today’s report, Amnesty International is launching a global campaign – backed by the World Health Organisation and High Commissioner for Human Rights – to hold states and big pharma to account. The 100 Day Countdown: 2 billion Covid-19 vaccines now! is demanding that the World Health Organisation’s target of vaccinating 40% of the population of low and lower-middle income countries by the end of the year is met. We are calling upon states to urgently redistribute the hundreds of millions of excess doses currently sitting idle and for vaccine developers to ensure that at least 50% of doses produced go to these countries. If states and pharma companies continue down their current path, there will be no end in sight for Covid-19.
“Armed with billions of dollars of tax-payers money and expertise from research institutions, pharmaceutical companies have played a pivotal role in developing life-saving vaccines. But now they must take immediate action to provide billions more people with the chance to be inoculated. To achieve a fair and rapid roll-out, vaccine developers must prioritise deliveries to countries that need them most and suspend their intellectual property rights, share their knowledge and technology and train qualified manufacturers to ramp-up production of Covid-19 vaccines,” said Agnès Callamard.
As President Biden is set to announce new commitments to fight the coronavirus pandemic including fully vaccinating 70 percent of the world’s population by next September, at a summit today (22nd Sept), Agnès Callamard said:
“Covid-19 vaccines must be readily available and accessible for all. It is up to governments and pharma companies to make this a reality. We need leaders like President Biden, to put billions of doses on the table and deliver the goods, otherwise this is just another empty gesture and lives will continue to be lost.”
Amnesty International is also calling on states to ensure that health facilities and medicines, are available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality to everyone. They must adopt laws and policies to ensure pharmaceutical companies conform with human rights standards.
Amnesty International wrote to each company before publication. Five companies – AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson – responded. The companies acknowledge that fair and equitable distribution, particularly in low-income countries, is essential, but all companies have failed to meet these aspirations and fulfil their human rights responsibilities.
Amnesty International’s report did not assess in detail the Russian and Chinese companies that are producing billions of doses, as these companies disclose less corporate information. This lack of transparency makes it impossible to conduct a full assessment. However, like all companies, they also have human rights responsibilities. They, too, have not distributed their vaccines equitably, reserving the majority of doses for domestic consumption, and failed to join knowledge and technology sharing pools.
Data on the distribution of vaccines, projected production and revenue forecasts for each company was drawn from Airfinity, a data science company. Data on vaccination rates in different countries was taken from Our World In Data.
Using data from these sources, Amnesty has calculated that an additional 1.2 billion people in low and lower-middle income countries would need to be vaccinated by the end of the year to meet the WHO’s target of vaccinating 40% of the population in these countries. This would require over 2 billion vaccines. If just 50% of the world’s projected vaccine production until the end of the year was distributed to low and lower-middle income countries, it would provide 2.6 billion vaccines.