Pharmaceutical companies profit off the pandemic

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News investigates who is profiting off the pandemic and the COVID-19 vaccines made using research mostly funded by you, the taxpayer. Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi started looking into the cost of a vaccine and found huge profits.

Researchers told Channel 2 just one shot cost the government about $20 when bought in bulk. But the cost to make a dose is about $1.80.

It’s no wonder the makers of the shots are reporting a banner year. Companies like Pfizer and Moderna have reported billions in profits.

Now, there is a push to get them to share the vaccine recipe, especially since much of the research was publicly funded.

The COVID-19 vaccines are free to Americans, but not really because the government is using our tax dollars to buy them in bulk. That is after using our tax dollars to fund private companies to come up with them, “with years of public funding by the U.S.,” said Tim Bierley with the U.K.’s Global Justice Now. Bierley studies pharmaceutical companies and their practices.

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He said the COVID-19 vaccine is a big money-maker for them. “The big three pharmaceutical companies so, that’s Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have been making $1,000 per second in profit on coronavirus vaccines,” said Bierley.

$1,000 a second in profit is coming from a potentially life-saving shot. Emory University’s David Howard, Ph.D. with the Department of Health Policy and Management said that money is an incentive to lure future investments. “I think it’s really important that Pfizer and Moderna make money off these vaccines. These vaccines have been a godsend,” said Howard.

“I want companies to feel comfortable investing in future treatments and vaccines. They’re really effective for future pandemics,” said Howard.

Bierley said it costs companies about $1.80 a dose to make the COVID-19 vaccine, just a fraction of what they charge even for bulk rates.

“I couldn’t even put a number on it truthfully,” said Brittany Smith while shopping in Clayton County. “I’m not sure. I don’t know,” said another shopper Santrice Stewart.

“But generally prices are about $20 per dose which is similar to what the government pays, and other private insurers pay for the flu vaccine,” said Howard. “I think in some cases, the vaccine manufacturer didn’t want to be seen as taking advantage of a crisis,” continued Howard.


But Bierley said that’s exactly what is happening with the few companies who currently make the vaccine by refusing to share with others. “In terms of sharing their recipes, we know that Pfizer has said the idea is to them ‘nonsense.’ So, we know they are not supportive,” said Bierley.

Pfizer sent us a statement: “Pfizer is committed to fair and equitable access of its COVID-19 vaccine. All of our supply agreements include an equitable pricing structure. High and middle-income countries pay more than low-income countries, but at a value that is significantly discounted from our normal benchmarks, during the pandemic. Low and lower middle-income countries pay a not-for-profit price.”

Johnson & Johnson also sent us a statement: “Global equity has been at the forefront of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 response from the beginning of the pandemic, and we continue to manufacture our COVID-19 vaccine around the clock and around the world. We have provided our COVID-19 vaccine globally on a not-for-profit basis. This pricing has applied globally, regardless of country.”

Bierley said sharing trade secrets during a world health crisis isn’t so far-fetched. He pointed to examples such as when the makers of penicillin and the polio and smallpox vaccines shared their recipes with other manufacturers so people had more access to it and low-income countries could afford it.

“Even today only 11% of people in low-income countries have received even a single jab,” said Bierley. “It’s fundamentally a question about putting public health above profit,” he continued.

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One possible solution Bierley said is that the government could set parameters. For example, require companies using public funds for research to release the vaccine recipe after they make a certain amount of profit. That way others can make it, maybe even improve upon it and we can all have more access to it, and ultimately stop the spread of COVID-19.

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