Why protest at Pfizer’s AGM?

Why protest at Pfizer’s AGM?

By: Alena Ivanova
Date: 22 April 2022
Campaigns: Pharma

On Thursday 28 April, Pfizer is holding its AGM – and while we can’t join the virtual proceedings, we wanted to show we reject their blatant pandemic profiteering.

Back in February, Pfizer announced a record-breaking year with revenue of $37 billion from its successful Covid-19 vaccine. Sales have doubled over the pandemic and the company looks set for a few years of rocketing commercial success with the addition of Paxlovid – the Covid-19 treatment pill. If Pfizer were a country, it would have the 66th largest GDP in the world, ahead of countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Guatemala, Oman, and Luxembourg.

Yet Pfizer’s Covid-19 jab was invented by BioNTech, supported by €100 million in debt financing from the publicly owned European Investment Bank and a €375 million grant from the German government. And the company has cashed in on a shocking 299% estimated markup when selling to the NHS for example in comparison with the production cost.

Recent research by Oxfam has highlighted that the devastating economic impact of the pandemic will result in over a quarter of a billion more people pushed into extreme poverty this year. The UN has already acknowledged that Covid-19 has also wiped out years of progress in the 15-year global work on the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, which was already off track in 2019.

But none of this touches Pfizer – while whole countries are plunged further into austerity and debt, the pharmaceutical industry continues to rake in the billions.

So what’s the problem with profit if the world has benefited?

Well, the problem is the majority of the world hasn’t benefited.

8 out of 10 people in low-income countries are still not vaccinated. And as of the end of 2021 only 1% of all the doses Pfizer manufactured had gone to low-income countries. Moreover, the situation is set to repeat with the Paxlovid treatment as well – of the 120 million courses of the antiviral only 4 million will go to low and middle-income countries. In fact, the already-spoken for doses of Paxlovid for the US government are going to eat up half of the scaled-back pandemic funding bill, which is going to have direct impact on both internal preparedness but critically on international commitments.

The impact of the pandemic has not been felt equally across the world with four times as many people dying due to Covid-19 in lower income countries compared to higher income ones. Pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer like to tell us that the worst is over, that we’ve got plentiful vaccine supplies and the issue with regional differences in vaccination rates has little to do with manufacturing capacity. Pfizer’s own projections for 2022 total 4 billion doses, with Moderna promising 3 billion. And yet, research estimates we’d need up to 22 billion doses in 2022, condemning us to ongoing shortages and inequality.

This is a gap in supply that we could fix by enlisting some of the over 100 facilities ready to manufacture – that is, if Pfizer allowed them to. But the company has shown time and time again that the public good doesn’t trump the corporate profit. Right now, Pfizer continues to block efforts by governments taking emergency measures and using compulsory licensing – they are fighting a compulsory licensing petition for Paxlovid in the Dominican Republic. Their argument against allowing cheap and safe production of this life-saving treatment for low and middle-income countries? That it is their ‘human right’ to keep the monopoly going.

The company has also refused to provide access to their drug to researchers from the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), thus frustrating vital research into the potential opportunities to expand the time frame the pill can be taken and save more lives in the global south. Of course, one could argue that such research will be of little use anyway when the company is determined to keep doses out of the less profitable low-income country market as well as to keep its monopoly over manufacturing the drug.

And what are we going to do about it?

First, we need to be louder in identifying the problems and connecting the dots. Yes, the Covid-19 vaccines work and have saved lives. Yes, scientific research and medical innovation are vital and deserve public funding and incentives. But no, we absolutely do not have to support pharmaceuticals’ business model, accept that the profit motive drives progress or that creating a handful of billionaires while millions are plunged into poverty is a natural outcome of a global public health crisis.

There is another way – we can force governments to act and pressure companies to make concessions. Ultimately, with enough people power behind us, we can imagine into being a system that prioritises everyone’s health over a few fat cats’ profits.

So join us.

Join the Pfizer protest on 28 April >>

Photo: Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0)