Profits from the production of COVID-19 vaccines spawned nine new billionaires with a combined wealth of $ 19.3 billion. They also added $ 32 billion to the portfolios of eight existing billionaires whose fortunes are tied to companies involved in vaccine production.
The staggering figures, revealing an obscene accumulation of private wealth amid global mass death and misery, were released in a report produced by an alliance of humanitarian organizations ahead of a G20 summit on global health.
The report estimates that the new fortunes of Moderna and Pfizer CEOs and billionaire investors could vaccinate the 780 million people in so-called “low-income countries” 1.3 times.
The $ 32 billion raised by pre-existing billionaires over the past year would pay for the full immunization of India’s 1.4 billion people. The country is the new epicenter of the COVID-19 disaster, where infections have doubled in the past two months. The recorded daily deaths have risen to 4,000, overwhelming the health care system and overwhelming crematoriums and cemeteries with bodies.
The new vaccine billionaires include Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna ($ 4.3 billion); Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech ($ 4 billion); Timothy Springer, immunologist and founding investor of Moderna ($ 2.2 billion), and Noubar Afeyan, president of Moderna ($ 1.9 billion).
The foundation for the immense wealth amassed by these people was laid by government-funded research in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and academic labs, as well as the spending of some $ 10.5 billion in funding. public for vaccine development and production.
Private ownership of the scientific achievements produced by the company has enabled Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and other companies to increase the price of vaccines by at least 20% of their production costs and ensure a monopoly control that prevents countries in desperate need of vaccines from making cheaper generics.
On top of that, the fortunes of the big billionaires in pharma-biotechnology have been swelled by a booming stock market supported by huge injections of government cash. Moderna’s stock prices, for example, have quadrupled over the past year.
The CEOs and investors of Moderna and Pfizer are perhaps among the most direct, but they are not the only “profiteers from the pandemic.” As the annual report of Forbes The magazine explained last month, the collective wealth of billionaires around the world jumped more than 60% last year, from $ 8 trillion to $ 13.1 trillion. This, given that the pandemic and its socio-economic effects have destroyed at least 255 million full-time jobs worldwide over the past year and will push, according to the World Bank, an additional 150 million people into the world. extreme poverty in 2021.
While vaccine production has brought in immense fortunes for a tiny layer within the ruling oligarchy, the vast majority of the world’s population has been denied access to vaccines. Their distribution has been hampered by nationalism, profit and outright sabotage by the great imperialist powers of any coordinated international campaign to combat the pandemic.
Businesses and finance capital have fiercely resisted calls for the World Trade Organization to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines, breaking production monopolies. The companies and their lobbyists insisted the waiver would be ineffective as it would take months to transfer the technology and develop manufacturing capacity in other countries. They’ve been making this argument for months, as people in these countries die, deprived of life-saving vaccines.
At the opening of the 74th World Health Assembly of the World Health Organization on Monday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that the number of coronavirus cases so far this year has exceeded those of 2020 and that, given existing trends, the number of deaths from COVID-19 will exceed the total number of deaths in 2020 over the next three weeks.
In a report released last week, the WHO estimated that three times as many people may have died from the pandemic than official figures reflect. This would bring the actual death toll worldwide to over 10 million.
Highlighting the vast inequality in the global distribution of vaccines, Ghebreyesus said that “the current vaccine crisis is a scandalous injustice that perpetuates the pandemic”. He noted that 75 percent of the world’s vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries.
“There is no diplomatic way to tell. A small group of countries that make and buy the majority of vaccines in the world control the fate of the rest of the world, ”he said, while highlighting the“ grossly inadequate ”doses provided to COVAX, the global agency created. to ensure equity in vaccine distribution.
COVAX’s stated goal was to distribute two billion doses by the end of 2021. By early this month, it had managed to distribute only 70 million doses to 125 countries, less than enough to immunize 1% of their combined populations, even just once.
Africa, which has 17 percent of the world’s population, accounts for just 1.5 percent of the world’s vaccinations. COVAX was only able to distribute 300,000 doses for 15 million Somalis, 355,000 doses for 23 million in Niger and 175,000 for 6.8 million in Libya. In the Middle East, only 336,000 were provided for 39 million Iraqis, 364,800 for 43 million Algerians and 164,000 for 4.7 million Palestinians in the occupied territories. Similar figures prevail in poor Latin American countries, where Bolivia, for example, received only 421,000 doses for its 12 million people; and Asia, where the Philippines received only 2.6 million doses for a population of 108 million.
COVAX was deprived of vaccines from the start and its mission of equitable distribution was sabotaged as major imperialist powers, led by Washington, signed deals with Pfizer, Moderna and other companies bypassing the international agency to buy the lion’s share of vaccines. for themselves.
The disastrous effects of this vaccine nationalism were further exacerbated as the Indian government responded to the uncontrolled rise of the pandemic that its own policies fueled by ordering the country’s Serum Institute (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker. , to stop all exports. As a result, tens of millions of health workers in the world’s poorest countries who have received a first dose of the vaccine will not receive a second.
The United States and the European imperialist powers have responded to the crisis with promises of vaccines equivalent to less than a drop in the ocean. The Biden administration has pledged 80 million doses and the European Union 100 million.
With new records of infections and deaths worldwide being recorded daily, this response not only seems heartless, but irrational and indeed mad. There will be no end to the global coronavirus pandemic on a national basis. As WHO’s Ghebreyesus warned on Monday, “No country should assume it’s out of the woods, regardless of its vaccination rate.” With the virus spreading uncontrollably in India, Brazil and other countries, the threat remains that new vaccine-resistant variants will emerge.
The criminal indifference of capitalist governments and ruling classes to the urgent need for a global vaccination campaign is in line with their entire homicidal response to the pandemic. From the start, they have subordinated the defense of human life to the profit interests of banks and corporations and to a ruling oligarchy that has concentrated unfathomable wealth in its hands.
The pandemic has exposed the need to abolish the nation-state capitalist system, expropriate the wealth accumulated by the financial oligarchy and end private ownership of the means of production as preconditions for the defense of the rights and interests of workers, including life itself.
Workers around the world are engaging in struggles fueled by the social catastrophe created by capitalism’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These struggles must be armed with a socialist and internationalist program, uniting workers across national borders in a common struggle for a society that places human needs on the profits and wealth of the oligarchs and advances the international unity of the working class against the push of capitalism to war. .