Vaccine equity campaigners condemned Pfizer for announcing that it will soon raise the price of its publicly funded Covid-19 shot to between $110 and $130 per dose in the U.S., a move that comes as the Biden administration is preparing to end the nation’s free coronavirus vaccine program as pandemic response funding runs dry.
Reuters reported late Thursday that Angela Lukin, an executive at Pfizer, said the New York-based pharmaceutical giant “expects” that the vaccine “will be made available at no cost to people who have private insurance or government-paid insurance.”
The outlet noted that Lukin did not say whether the company will make any accommodations for the tens of millions of people in the U.S. without any health insurance.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance said in a statement Friday that Pfizer’s planned price hike would amount to a 10,000% markup above the cost of producing the vaccine, which is estimated to be as low as $1.18 per dose.
The U.S. currently pays around $30 per dose for Pfizer’s shot.
“While health workers and the vulnerable continue to go unvaccinated in developing countries, Pfizer is shamelessly fleecing the public for ever-greater sums of money,” said Julia Kosgei, policy adviser to the People’s Vaccine Alliance. “This latest obscene price hike is truly a mask-off moment for one of the great profiteers of this pandemic.”
In the second quarter of this year, Pfizer reported a 78% increase in overall profit compared to the same period in 2021 and said its coronavirus vaccine revenue was $32 billion. The firm is set to report third-quarter earnings early next month.
“This is daylight robbery,” Kosgei said of the coming price increase. “Governments must not stand by while companies like Pfizer hold the world to ransom in a global pandemic.”
“This isn’t just about vaccines,” Kosgei added. “Right now, people in developing countries are dying without access to Paxlovid, an antiviral Covid-19 treatment for which Pfizer is charging hundreds of dollars per course. But there is a proposal at the World Trade Organization that would make it easier for poorer countries to produce generic doses. It’s time for governments to stand up to pandemic profiteers and support it.”
Earlier this year, rich countries at the World Trade Organization tanked a popular proposal to temporarily waive coronavirus vaccine patents, a step that would help facilitate the production of generic doses for developing nations. At present, just 23.3% of people in low-income countries have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose.
Pfizer, along with other pharmaceutical giants, fervently opposed the patent waiver as it sought to preserve its control over production and distribution of the shots, which were developed using government-funded technology.
During a recent panel discussion, World Health Organization Director of Health Emergencies Mike Ryan said the failure to ensure global vaccine equity and prevent millions of deaths was “because of the greed of the north” and “the greed of the pharmaceutical industry.
“We failed because of the self-interest of certain member states that were not prepared to share,” Ryan added.
The Biden administration, which has faced criticism for falling short of its vaccine donations pledges, is taking steps to transition away from providing free vaccines to the U.S. public.
As the Wall Street Journal reported in August, the shift will give “more control of pricing and coverage to the healthcare industry in ways that could generate sales for companies—and costs for consumers—for years to come.”
The early stages of the transition have begun amid mounting fears of a winter spike in coronavirus infections and deaths. Just 4% of eligible people have received the newest Covid-19 booster, according to government data.
While the Biden administration has called for additional pandemic response funding to purchase more tests, treatments, and next-generation vaccines, the effort faces opposition from Republicans who have seized on President Joe Biden’s recent claim that the “pandemic is over” to justify blocking the White House’s request.
“We know from our clinical and research experience that the pandemic is far from over, and that national efforts to secure the health and well-being of the American public are far from complete,” a group of health experts wrote in an open letter earlier this month. “We are deeply concerned that the Biden administration is minimizing Covid at a time when it needs to be redoubling its efforts to ensure funding and resources to prevent another surge.”
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