As the COVID pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the world, the world has seen the minting of a new class of super-rich: vaccine billionaires.
Nine executives and investors at some of the key manufacturers of COVID vaccinations, namely Moderna, BioNTech and Chinese company CanSino Biologics, have become billionaires since the start of the virus, according to research from the People’s Vaccines Alliance.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel and BioNTech’s Ugur Sahin, with their reported wealths of $4.3 billion (€3.53 billion) and $4 billion (€3.3 billion) top the list.
It also includes two of Moderna’s founding investors, the firm’s chair and the CEO of a company charged with manufacturing and packaging the Moderna vaccine.
According to the People’s Vaccines Alliance, a network of organisations and activists campaigning for an end to property rights and patents for inoculations, these figures were based on data from Forbes Rich List.
“Between them, the nine new billionaires have a combined net wealth of $19.3 billion (€15.8 billion), enough to fully vaccinate all people in low-income countries 1.3 times”, the Alliance said in a statement.
Notable in their omission are billionaires connected with one of the world’s most widely given vaccine versions, that produced by AstraZeneca. Under the company’s “no-profit pledge“, the company was estimated in March to have foregone $20 billion (€16.4 billion) in revenue.
The billionaires list comes ahead of the G20 Global Health Summit on Friday, which has been a focus of growing calls to temporarily remove intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines.
Proponents of the waiver say it would boost production in developing countries and address the dramatic inequity in access.
The move has already received the backing of the Unites States and influential figures such as Pope Francis.
Manufacturers have argued that patent protection is not the limiting factor in ramping up vaccine production, and that a range of issues, from the sourcing of raw materials to the availability of qualified personnel, are holding up the manufacturing process.
However, campaign groups have accused pharmaceutical corporations of making “huge profits” from their “monopoly” on these vaccines.
According to Heidi Chow, Senior Policy and Campaigns Manager at Global Justice Now, which helped analyse the billionaire data: “It can’t be fair that private individuals are cashing in [on taxpayer-funded vaccines] while hundreds of millions face second or third waves unprotected”.
“As thousands of people die each day in India, it is utterly repugnant… to put the interests of the billionaire owners of Big Pharma ahead of the desperate needs of millions”, she added.
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