Cabaero: Getting rich on Covid

·3 min read

REPORTS have been coming out on how the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic has created new billionaires or given these people their biggest haul ever.

As expected, these are owners of pharmaceutical companies behind the research and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines. There is no question that their riches were created legally and in line with their core businesses. But now, the ethical question is being raised against them, and rightly so.

A report by The People’s Vaccine Alliance last week said at least nine people have become new billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, “thanks to the excessive profits pharmaceutical corporations with monopolies on Covid vaccines are making.” The report was released in time for the G20 leaders Global Health Summit last week whose participants included countries blocking moves to boost vaccine supply by ending monopolies on vaccine production.

What makes raking in their billions of dollars obscene is that people in developing countries like India, Nepal and the Philippines have only tiny fractions of their populations vaccinated and their infection cases are still high. Not only that. The money used in the development of some of these vaccines came from taxpayers whose governments funded their vaccine research.

“Between them, the nine new billionaires have a combined net wealth of US$19.3 billion, enough to fully vaccinate all people in low-income countries 1.3 times,” the alliance said in a statement. As they watch their bottom lines rise, these low-income countries received only 0.2 percent of the global supply of vaccines because of the massive shortfall in available doses, despite being home to 10 percent of the world’s population.

In addition to the nine new billionaires, there are eight existing billionaires into vaccine production who saw their combined wealth increase by US$32.2 billion, enough to fully vaccinate everyone in India whose population is at 1.3 billion.

The alliance said it analyzed the Forbes Rich List data to “highlight the massive wealth being generated for a handful of people from vaccines which were largely public funded.”

Topping the list of new billionaires are the chief executive officers (CEO) of Moderna and BioNTech, each with wealth over US$4 billion or more. The list also includes two of Moderna’s founding investors and the company’s chair as well as the CEO of a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine. The final three new vaccine billionaires are all co-founders of the Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics.

“The highly effective vaccines we have are thanks to massive amounts of taxpayers’ money so it can’t be fair that private individuals are cashing in while hundreds of millions face second and third waves completely unprotected,” said Heidi Chow of Global Justice Now.

In the Philippines, there may be pandemic profiteers but not of the kind from the development of vaccines. There was one person who admitted to trying to be a middleman between a Chinese pharmaceutical company selling a Covid-19 vaccine and the Philippine government. That’s gross and illegal if it involves greasing palms.