Big pharma firms lashed for not helping poor

Major pharmaceutical companies that have developed COVID-19 vaccines have been accused of fuelling a human rights crisis over their refusal to boost supply in poorer countries.

Sep 22, 2021, updated Sep 22, 2021

A new report by Amnesty International released on Wednesday said six companies including Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna have not prioritised delivering doses to developing nations.

Pfizer is contracted to provide more than 40 million doses to Australia this year and 85 million booster shots in 2022 and 2023.

Moderna will supply 25 million doses while 53.8 million AstraZeneca shots – mostly produced in Melbourne – are a key part of the program.

The report found that while just over half of people in developed countries have been fully vaccinated, in poorer countries, the figure is less than one per cent.

Amnesty International’s secretary general Agnes Callamard said the refusal of pharmaceutical companies to share vaccine technology with vulnerable areas was a global human rights failure.

“Against the backdrop of these gross inequalities, BioNTech, Moderna and Pfizer are set to make $130 billion combined by the end of 2022. Profits should never come before lives,” she said.

“It’s 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.

“In many low-income countries, not even health workers and people at-risk have received the vaccine.”

The new report found just 0.3 per cent of the nearly six billion vaccine doses distributed globally have gone to low-income countries.

Other findings from the report showed Pfizer delivered nine times more vaccines to Sweden alone than all low-income countries combined.

Amnesty said the refusal of the vaccine developers to share the intellectual property rights of the immunisation with others was a major concern.

The human rights organisation has called for two billion doses of COVID vaccines to be distributed to low and middle-income countries before the end of the year.

“No one should spend another year suffering and living in fear,” Ms Callamard said.

“Armed with billions of dollars of tax-payers money and expertise from research institutions, pharmaceutical companies have played a pivotal role in developing life-saving vaccines, but now they must take immediate action to provide billions more people with the chance to be inoculated.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will this week attend a COVID summit at the White House hosted by US President Joe Biden.

Biden is expected to announce a pledge to vaccinate 70 per cent of the global population by September 2022.

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