Big Pharma Gets Richer by Not Sharing Patents During Pandemic

Stephane Bancel of Moderna. (Image Credit: Steven Ferdman)

An early December report by Global Justice Now U.K. analyzed the profits of Pfizer and Moderna shareholders and found that the richest eight (yes, only the richest eight) saw a $10 billion increase in the value of their stocks since the discovery of the new Omicron variant. The CEO of Moderna, Stephane Bancel, for example, saw a total increase in personal stock value of $824 million in less than one week!

These eight individuals, already wealthy even before the pandemic and extremely wealthy even before the discovery of Omicron, got incredibly wealthier without working any harder or doing anything to ensure that the majority of humanity receives the vaccines they desperately need. In fact, they’ve done exactly the opposite.

Rather than do everything possible to sell the vaccines equitably, at affordable prices for all regions and nations, these companies have sold their vaccines almost entirely to the highest bidders at high prices, effectively making it impossible for the majority of nations in the most impoverished regions of the world to purchase more than tiny amounts. Rather than release their patent rights openly, or at least to other companies or nations that have the capacity to produce the vaccines safely and effectively, they are holding on to their patents, guaranteeing that they will have a monopoly on the vaccines long into the future. And rather than pushing to fully vaccinate nearly all the world’s population as quickly as possible to stop the spread of the virus and limit the growth of new variants, they are actually counting on the future development of new variants, thus guaranteeing that they will have an unlimited market for new variant vaccines for years. These political-economic circumstances, combined with the latest variant discovery, will ensure that these corporations reap super-profits well into the future. Recognizing the clear interest that Big Pharma has in actually prolonging the pandemic and allowing the evolution of new variants, one vaccine advocate joked that, “we shouldn’t be calling this Omicron; we should be calling this the Pfizer variant or the Moderna variant.”

And all this is despite the fact that the majority (some reports say almost all) of the research done into the coronavirus vaccines has been conducted by government research agencies like the National Institutes of Health, then shared for free with the drug companies. In other words, these “innovative” capitalists really didn’t do that much innovating in the first place.

The disastrous response to the COVID pandemic, even once a safe and effective vaccine was available, showcases once again the priorities of the system. A tiny class of capitalists monopolize control over a life-saving product, and then manipulate its distribution and availability in ways that save some, and leave billions vulnerable to the deadly and ever-evolving virus. For the executives at Moderna, Pfizer and others, the goal of their businesses is in no way public health. Their goal is profit, first and foremost. And when profit comes first, millions die. That’s the way it is in our capitalist world. Is there any question that this system needs to go?