4 reasons we should be worried about big pharma’s grip over publicly funded Covid-19 vaccines

4 reasons we should be worried about big pharma’s grip over publicly funded Covid-19 vaccines


By: Heidi Chow
Date: 21 July 2020
Campaigns: Pharma

The government has committed millions of pounds into researching and developing a Covid-19 vaccine. Oxford University’s vaccine research has received much attention because of the promising results from initial trials. This vaccine project has been supported with £84 million of public money. But if it ultimately proves to be safe and effective, there are real concerns that it will not reach vulnerable groups around the world. Oxford University have signed a deal with British pharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca to manufacture and distribute the vaccine. This deal sets out who controls the vaccine and decides who gets it and at what price.

Here are four reasons why we should be worried about big pharma’s grip over this publicly funded vaccine:

 1)  A secret deal with big pharma

We don’t know  exactly what has been agreed between Oxford University and AstraZeneca. We have asked both Oxford University and AstraZeneca to make this deal public so that it can be scrutinised. As yet their responses have not been adequate. We are still concerned that this vaccine will not reach all who need it and we are still to see their secret deal. This is a publicly-funded vaccine and who gets to control it, is a public matter.

2) Big pharma could determine price

The licensing agreement between the two parties is crucial because it determines who controls this vaccine and whether AstraZeneca has an exclusive monopoly over the vaccine. If AstraZeneca does exclusively control the vaccine, it will mean the company can decide on price and who to sell to. These decisions will be driven primarily by profit rather than on global public health priorities.

3) Big pharma could still profiteer from the pandemic

Astrazeneca has said it will not profit during the pandemic. However, this can only be verified if they company is also willing to make public their costs and prices. Also, after the pandemic is declared officially over, the virus could become endemic or the need for inoculation could still exist, in which case the company is free to profiteer in the long-term from this publicly funded vaccine.

4) Big pharma could stop global efforts into vaccine manufacturing

If a monopoly has been granted to the company, this would enable the company to keep publicly-funded research and the technological know-how to manufacturer the vaccine under wraps. This would prevent mass scale up as well as hinder global scientific knowledge and progress needed to defeat this pandemic quickly.

Ultimately if this publicly funded vaccine is successful, it should not become a privatised commodity used for corporate profiteering. Instead it should be a global public good and shared with the world, free of monopolies. Working in solidarity rather than competition will give us our best chance of defeating this global pandemic.

That’s why we’re supporting a letter from Luigi Ceccaroni, a volunteer for the Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine trials, to Astrazeneca and Oxford University. He shares our concerns and he’s looking for answers on this secret deal so that a publicly funded vaccine remains a public good.

Take action: sign Luigi’s open letter to big pharma.


Photo: AstraZeneca office Cheshire. Cheshire East Council/Flickr.