Socialist Worker

New billionaires cash in on Covid-19 vaccine production

by Sophie Squire
Issue No. 2757

Dr Barney Graham and his team whose publicly-funded research was key to vaccine breakthroughs

Dr Barney Graham and his team whose publicly-funded research was key to vaccine breakthroughs (Pic: FightHIVinDC)

Profiting from the Covid-19 vaccine has directly created at least nine new billionaires with a combined wealth of nearly £14 billion.

That would be enough to fully vaccinate people all 780 million people in the “low-income countries” 1.3 times over.

A report from The People’s Vaccine Alliance compiled data from the Forbes Rich list to assess who has benefitted from the pandemic.

The biggest winners were the bosses of major pharmaceutical companies, who have been able to monopolise vaccine production.

The CEO of US pharmaceutical company Moderna, Stephane Bancel, is now worth £3.8 billion and its chairman, Noubar Afeyan, has stacked up £1.3 billion.

Robert Langer, a scientist and founding investor in Moderna, has become a billionaire. And Timothy Springer, an immunologist and founding investor in Moderna now has £1.5 billion.

Juan Lopez-Belmonte, chairman of ROVI, also benefited from a deal with Moderna for the packaging and manufacture of its vaccine. He is now worth around £1.2 billion.

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It is often claimed that such fortunes are a reward for commercial risk and brilliant corporate research.

But an article in Scientific American magazine details how public funding was key to virtually all vaccine breakthroughs.

It shows how Covid-19 vaccines are often based on a design developed with public funding by Dr Barney Graham, then at Vanderbilt University.

The magazine adds, “Basic research conducted by Graham and others at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and federally funded academic laboratories has been the essential ingredient. The government has poured an additional $10.5 billion (£7.4 billion) into vaccine companies since the pandemic began to accelerate the delivery of their products.

“The Moderna vaccine emerged directly out of a partnership between Moderna and Graham’s NIH laboratory.”

The CEO of BioNtech, Ugur Sahin, whose company jointly produced the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has also amassed £2.8 billion. This discovery also used public funding.

In addition, eight existing pharma billionaires have seen their combined wealth increase by more than £22.7 billion.

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This would be enough to fully vaccinate everyone in India.

The report goes on to say, “Vaccine billionaires are being created as stocks in pharmaceutical firms rise rapidly in expectation of huge profits from the COVID-19 vaccines over which these firms have monopoly control.

“The People’s Vaccine Alliance warns that these monopolies allow pharmaceutical corporations total control over the supply and price of vaccines, pushing up their profits while making it harder for poor countries, in particular, to secure the stocks they need.”

Members of the People’s Vaccine Alliance include those involved in NGOs such as Global Justice Now and the charity Oxfam.

They denounced the refusal of states such as Britain to lift the patents on vaccines and allow countries in the global South to manufacture their own.

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.”

 

 


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