Amnesty International has accused six pharmaceutical companies that have developed Covid-19 vaccines of fuelling a global human rights crisis, citing their refusal to sufficiently waive intellectual property rights, share vaccine technology and boost global vaccine supply.
After assessing the performance of six Covid-19 vaccine developers – Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax – Amnesty International claims that all are failing to uphold their own human rights commitments and warns they should not be putting profit before the lives of people in the world’s poorest countries.
Less than 1% of the almost 6bn doses of Covid vaccine administered worldwide have gone to low-income countries, with almost 80% delivered to wealthy countries. Despite calls to ensure a fair global vaccine supply, some companies have continued to disproportionally distribute vaccines to wealthy countries, according to Amnesty’s report, published today.
Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, said: “Big pharma’s intentional blocking of knowledge transfer and their wheeling and dealing in favour of wealthy states has brewed an utterly devastating vaccine scarcity for so many others.”
Callamard said: “[These companies’] actions are 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.”
Among its findings, the report states that Pfizer and BioNTech have so far delivered nine times more vaccines to Sweden than to all low-income countries combined. Both companies revenues have increased substantially in 2021 compared with 2020 due to sales of the Covid-19 vaccine, which is sold at a high price, the report said.
In a letter to Amnesty, Dr Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer, wrote: “We established pricing principles for the Covid-19 vaccine which are consistent with Pfizer’s commitment to the right to health.”
BioNTech told Amnesty that it was working to provide 2bn doses to low- and middle-income countries in 2021 and 2022.
Moderna has not yet delivered a single vaccine dose to a low-income country and will not deliver the vast majority of its promised supplies to Covax – a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines – until next year.
Moderna told Amnesty that it would be supplying up to 500m doses of its vaccine to Covax, including an initial 34m doses at the end of this year.
Higher prices mean the company received revenues of $4.4bn for the second quarter of 2021, up from $67m for the same period in 2020, the report said.
Johnson & Johnson, which has manufactured a single-dose vaccine, has refused to grant a licence to a manufacturer offering to make millions more doses. Johnson & Johnson told Amnesty it had established 12 manufacturing and supply partnerships across four continents.
While Novavax, which has yet to be approved for use, plans to provide almost two-thirds of its production supply to Covax, the report claims it has refused to share its knowledge and technology. Silvia Taylor, senior vice-president of global corporate affairs, told the Guardian: “Novavax is committed to ensuring equitable global access to our vaccine.”
Although AstraZeneca, which has committed to selling its vaccines at cost price, has provided the majority of supplies for Covax to date, and has shared knowledge and technology with 20 supply partners, the company has refused to share its intellectual property more widely, the report claims.
When approached by the Guardian, AstraZeneca claimed waiving intellectual property rights would not help meet global demand. A spokesperson said: “IP is not the limiting factor but the time it takes to transfer the technical knowledge using a 1,000 page ‘recipe book’ to produce the vaccine, as well as the lack of specialised producers that can quickly set up the industrial capacity to make a safe and effective vaccine.”
As of September 2021, Covid-19 has led to more than 4.5m deaths and 220m cases worldwide.