Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna making $1,000 profit every second while world’s poorest countries remain largely unvaccinated

Published: 16th November 2021

Demand grows for firms to share vaccine recipes and technology as billionaire pharma bosses convene for ‘Big Pharma Davos’

New figures from the Peoples Vaccine Alliance reveal that the companies behind two of the most successful COVID-19 vaccines —Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna— are making combined profits of $65,000 every minute. The figures based on the latest company reports are released as CEOs from pharmaceutical industry meet for the annual STAT summit —the equivalent of a ‘Big Pharma Davos’— from 16-18 November.

These companies have sold the majority of doses to rich countries, leaving low-income countries out in the cold. Pfizer and BioNTech have delivered less than one percent of their total vaccine supplies to low-income countries, while Moderna has delivered just 0.2 percent. Meanwhile 98 percent of people in low income countries have not been fully vaccinated. 

Maaza Seyoum of the African Alliance and People’s Vaccine Alliance Africa said:  “It is obscene that just a few companies are making millions of dollars in profit every single hour, while just two percent of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus. 

“Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have used their monopolies to prioritise the most profitable contracts with the richest governments, leaving low income countries out in the cold.”

Despite receiving public funding of over $8 billion, the three corporations have refused calls to urgently transfer vaccine technology and know-how with capable producers in low- and middle-income countries via the World Health Organisation (WHO), a move that could increase global supply, drive down prices and save millions of lives. In Moderna’s case, this is despite explicit pressure from the White House  and  requests from the WHO that the company collaborate in and help accelerate its plan to replicate the Moderna vaccine for wider production at its mRNA hub in South Africa.  

While Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, described the call to share vaccine recipes ‘dangerous nonsense,’ the WHO emergency use approval of the Indian vaccine Covaxin earlier this month is clear evidence that developing countries have the capacity and expertise. 

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager said: “Contrary to what Pfizer’s CEO says, the real nonsense is claiming the experience and expertise to develop and manufacture life-saving medicines and vaccines does not exist in developing countries. This is just a false excuse that pharmaceutical companies are hiding behind to protect their astronomical profits. 

“It is also a complete failure of government to allow these companies to maintain monopoly control and artificially constrain supply in the midst of a pandemic while so many people in the world are yet to be vaccinated.”

Based on company financial statements, the Alliance estimates that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna will make pre-tax profits of $34 billion this year between them, which works out as over a thousand dollars a second, $65,000 a minute or $93.5 million a day. The monopolies these companies hold have produced five new billionaires during the pandemic, with a combined net wealth of $35.1 billion.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, which has 80 members including the African Alliance, Global Justice Now, Oxfam, and UNAIDS, is calling for the pharmaceutical corporations to immediately suspend intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, tests, treatments, and other medical tools by agreeing to the proposed waiver of the TRIPS Agreement at the World Trade Organisation.

They are also calling on governments, including the United States, to use all their legal and policy tools to demand that pharmaceutical companies share COVID-19 data, know-how, and technology with the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and South Africa mRNA Technology Transfer Hub.

More than 100 nations, led by South Africa and India —with the support of the US— have been calling for the TRIPS waiver, which also has the support of over 100 past and present world leaders and Nobel laureates.

Despite this, other rich nations, including the UK and Germany, are still blocking the proposal, putting the interest of pharmaceutical companies over what’s best for the world.  This issue is set to dominate the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Summit to be held in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December. 

Notes to editors

A People’s Vaccine Alliance report from 21 October found that Moderna has only delivered 0.2 percent of their total vaccine supply to low-income countries and Pfizer/BioNTech has delivered less than 1 percent.

In their Q3 financial statement, Pfizer forecast $36 billion in vaccine revenue for 2021. Gross profit from the revenue is split 50/50 with BioNTech. Pfizer guidance for their income before tax (after splitting profit with BioNTech) is ‘High-20s as a Percentage of Revenues.’ A conservative 25 percent margin would bring Pfizer’s profit before tax to $9 billion in 2021 from the Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine. 

In BioNTech’s Q3 financial statement they forecast €16-17 billion in vaccine revenue for 2021. In the 9 months ending September 30 the company made € 10.3 billion profit before tax on €13.4 billion, revenue giving a 77 percent profit margin. Using a conservative €16 billion forecasted revenue for the full year, we therefore estimate that at a 77 percent profit margin, BioNTech will make €12.3 billion in pre-tax profit in 2021 —or $14.7 billion using the 2021 average exchange rate.

Moderna’s Q3 profit before tax for 9 months ending September 30 is $7.8 billion on $11.2 billion revenue giving a pre-tax profit margin of 70  percent. The company projects full year 2021 sales to be “between $15 billion and $18 billion”. Using the lower end of the estimate —70 percent of $15 billion is $10.5 billion in profit for 2021. The vaccine is Moderna’s only commercial product.

We therefore estimate the combined 2021 profit before tax for Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech as $34 billion. There are 525600 minutes in a year giving $ 64,961 profit before tax per minute or $1,083 per second. Pre-tax, rather than net, profit is used as Pfizer only report the guidance for pre-tax profit margin.

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