Claim: The pharmaceutical industry is posting record profits
Under the hashtag #pfizergate, countless claims circulate on social media that the coronavirus pandemic has become a gold mine for the pharmaceutical industry. The “vaccination mania” has degenerated into a “stirrup for the pharmaceutical lobby,” an enraged user comments on Twitter. And the director of the World Medical Association, Frank-Ulrich Montgomery, criticized the “indecent benefits of vaccine manufacturers” in an interview with SWR radio.
It is true that the sales of BioNTech and Pfizer have increased a lot. The turnover of the Mainz-based biotech company went from just under €500 million in 2020 to more than €17 billion in 2021. The value of BioNTech’s share went from eleven euros in October 2019 to 153 euros dated 4.2.2022.
According to the company’s own balance sheet, the American Pfizer increased its sales in 2021 by 95 percent compared to the previous year. Sales amounted to $81 billion, of which about $36 billion is forecast to correspond solely to the COVID 19 vaccine Comirnaty, which the group developed together with BioNTech.
In the shadow of BioNTech and Pfizer, the Swiss group Roche, as a manufacturer of PCR and rapid tests, also benefited especially from the pandemic. The turnover of the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical company rose 9 percent to reach about 59 billion euros in 2021. 28 percent of the turnover corresponded to the diagnostic division, which includes tests to detect the coronavirus.
However, it is also true that the pharmaceutical industry has been continuously expanding for 20 years. According to the “Statista” database, global drug sales went from $390 billion to $1.27 trillion in the period from 2001 to 2020.
Therefore, the consulting firm Ernst & Young (EY) considers that the increase in sales of pharmaceutical companies due to the pandemic is a temporary phenomenon. “In 2021, sales of the five most important vaccines amounted to 57,000 million dollars, the projection for 2026 is 15,000 million dollars,” explained analyst Alexander Nuyken, in an interview with DW.
By way of comparison: According to EY, the top five oncology drugs generated sales of just under $40 billion in 2021. By 2026, the consultancy forecasts $68 billion.
Claim: Public procurement of vaccines brings big benefits to manufacturers
Medicines, vaccine doses, rapid tests… In the face of massive calls for pharmaceutical companies, critics accuse governments in industrialized countries of having helped the industry make exorbitant profits with public money.
The business model is what Aaron Siri of the New York law firm Siri & Glimstad calls “madness” on Twitter. “The U.S. government gives Pfizer and Moderna billions, grants them immunity for damages or if [los medicamentos] they don’t work, and he promotes his products for free.”
In fact, the pandemic is costing taxpayers a lot of money. There have been and continue to be massive orders from pharmaceutical companies, especially vaccine manufacturers. In Germany alone, for example, the federal government ordered a total of 554 million doses of vaccines worth €4 billion as of December 16, 2021. According to the Federal Social Security Office, 7.58 billion euros have been spent on covid testing.
In addition, Germany invested about $1.5 billion in vaccine development, which mainly benefited private companies. This is indicated by a study by the Centre for Global Health of the University Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
Claim: Pharmaceutical companies refuse to release patents
Under the hashtag #VaccineApartheid, inequality of access to COVID-19 vaccines is a recurring theme on social media. The British non-governmental organization Global Justice Now estimates that sales of Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine are equivalent to more than seven times the sum that all governments in low-income countries spent on the health sector in total. For this reason, many aid organizations demand, together with the WHO, the release of then of patents for coronavirus vaccines.
So far, this demand has only been implemented by a few companies. Pfizer and BioNTech are not among them. They limit themselves to donating doses of vaccines.
The Swedish-British company AstraZeneca, for its part, sells its Vaxzevria vaccine at cost price and, in addition, has agreed to grant voluntary licenses and free transfer of technology with many developing countries.
The US company Moderna has not released the patent for its Spikevax vaccine, but is waiving to charge for it during the pandemic. The sequence of its mRNA vaccine, for example, is the basis of the vaccine candidate from the South African research and manufacturing centre Afrigen Biologics in Cape Town.
Instead, for the new COVID drugs Molnupiravir and Paxlovid, manufacturers Merck and Pfizer waive licensing rights in some countries. There is an agreement in this regard with the United Nations Drug Patent Pool, which negotiates licensing agreements with pharmaceutical companies.