Nine new billionaires created due to profits from Covid vaccines, says campaign group

According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, the nine new billionaires have a combined net wealth of $19.3 billion, enough to fully vaccinate all people in low-income countries 1.3 times.

A photo of a vaccination needle

MPs have called for tougher action on pharmaceutical monopolies, after it was revealed today that nine new billionaires have been created since the beginning of the Covid pandemic due to excessive profits being made by pharmaceutical companies.

According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, which is made up of charities such as Global Justice Now, Oxfam and UNAIDS, the nine new billionaires have a combined net wealth of $19.3 billion, enough to fully vaccinate all people in low-income countries 1.3 times.

Meanwhile, these countries have received only 0.2 per cent of the global supply of vaccines, because of the massive shortfall in available doses, despite being home to 10 per cent of the world’s population.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP said that global leaders had to act.

She told LFF: “The research behind COVID-19 vaccines was overwhelmingly financed by the public but pharmaceutical companies are now holding these life-saving blueprints hostage. 

“The onus has to be on global leaders to wrestle back control of the patents from private hands so that they can be used for the good of the global public. Protecting pharmaceutical monopolies just protects the virus’s monopoly on public life.”

The figures were revealed ahead of the a G20 leaders Global Health Summit which is due to take place tomorrow.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance says that key states including the UK and Germany are blocking moves to boost supply by ending companies’ monopoly control of vaccine production as COVID-19 continues to devastate lives in countries like India and Nepal, where only a tiny fraction of the population has been vaccinated.

Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar & Limehouse said that profiteering from the pandemic was ‘utterly unacceptable in all cases’.

She told LFF: “For multinational pharmaceutical corporations to use the vaccine to enhance the personal fortunes of already wealthy executives is simply beneath contempt.

“To seize on the vaccine as an opportunity to create billionaires in this way, is also a gross insult to the many poverty-stricken people across the globe being denied access to the jab.”

Eight existing billionaires– who have extensive portfolios in the COVID-19 vaccine pharma corporations – have seen their combined wealth increase by $32.2 billion, enough to fully vaccinate everyone in India.

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, said: “What a testament to our collective failure to control this cruel disease that we quickly create new vaccine billionaires but totally fail to vaccinate the billions who desperately need to feel safe. 

“These billionaires are the human face of the huge profits many pharmaceutical corporations are making from the monopoly they hold on these vaccines. These vaccines were funded by public money and should be first and foremost a global public good, not a private profit opportunity. We need to urgently end these monopolies so that we can scale up vaccine production, drive down prices and vaccinate the world.”

Earlier this month, the US backed proposals by South Africa and India at the World Trade Organisation to temporarily break up these monopolies and lift the patents on COVID-19 vaccines. 

The move also gained the support of over 100 developing countries and in recent days countries like Spain have also declared their support, as has the Pope and over 100 world leaders and Nobel laureates.

Heidi Chow, Senior Policy and Campaigns Manager at Global Justice Now, said: “As thousands of people die each day in India, it is utterly repugnant that the UK, Germany and others want to put the interests of the billionaire owners of Big Pharma ahead of the desperate needs of millions.

“The highly effective vaccines we have are thanks to massive amounts of taxpayers’ money so it can’t be fair that private individuals are cashing in while hundreds of millions face second and third waves completely unprotected.”

Topping the list of new billionaires as a result of the success of COVID vaccines are the CEOs of Moderna and BioNTech, each with a wealth over $4 billion or more. 

The list also includes two of Moderna’s founding investors and the company’s chair as well as the CEO of a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine. 

This is despite the fact the vast majority of funding for the Moderna vaccine was paid for by taxpayers. The final three new vaccine billionaires are all co-founders of the Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics.

Labour MP Afzal Khan said: “Saving lives is more important than profit, the Indian variant teaches us this exact point. 

“That’s why I support Labour’s 10-point plan to produce enough vaccines for the whole world, win the battle against Covid-19, and put in place the tools we need to fight future pandemics.”

The 9 new vaccine billionaires, in order of their net worth, according to the annual Forbes Rich List are:

  1. Stéphane Bancel –  Moderna’s CEO (worth $4.3 billion) 
  2. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech (worth $4 billion) 
  3. Timothy Springer  – an immunologist and founding investor of Moderna (worth $2.2bn)
  4. Noubar Afeyan – Moderna’s Chairman (worth $1.9 billion) 
  5. Juan Lopez-Belmonte– Chairman of ROVI, a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine (worth $1.8 billion) 
  6. Robert Langer – a scientist and founding investor in Moderna (worth $1.6 billion) 
  7. Zhu Tao co-founder and chief scientific officer at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.3 billion) 
  8. Qiu Dongxu, co-founder and senior vice president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.2) 
  9. Mao Huinhoa, also co-founder and senior vice president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1 billion)

Basit Mahmood is co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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