Covid-19: New research reveals Pfizer is making misleading claims about fair distribution of vaccines

12 November 2021, 11:09 UTC |

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is making misleading statements about its commitment to vaccine fairness, as it continues to supply the majority of its life saving Covid-19 doses to wealthy nations, said Amnesty International today.

In a new briefing, the organization found that Pfizer, which recently said it expects to earn 36 billion dollars in vaccine sales this year alone, has distorted reality to benefit its corporate image. The company is claiming to prioritize fair distribution of its vaccine and purporting to commit to sharing its scientific tools and insights – when the truth is very different.

“We’re still in the middle of an unprecedented global health and human rights crisis and it is essential that all countries of the world have access to vaccines as soon as possible. Pfizer says it is committed to supplying doses to low and middle-income countries, but the numbers just don’t bear this out. The fact is that this company is still putting profits first,” said Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s Head of Business and Human Rights.

Pfizer’s executives have repeatedly claimed that by the end of the year the US-based multinational will have supplied at least one billion doses to “low and middle-income nations”.

But the language is misleading. The World Bank classifies economies for analytical purposes into four income groups: low, lower-middle, upper-middle, and high income. However, in these statements, Pfizer has amalgamated low, lower-middle, and upper-middle countries – over 84% of the global population – into one group and referred to them as “low and middle-income”. Within this very broad category, the bulk of Pfizer’s doses have in fact been going to “upper-middle” income countries such as Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand. 

Pfizer said it had shipped a total of two billion doses by the end of September. In a letter to Amnesty International in November, the company admitted that of these only 154 million doses – less than 8 percent of its total – had reached 42 low- and lower-middle-income countries. Pfizer said it had distributed less than 10 percent of these (i.e. 15.4 million) to low- income countries.

“As much as these companies might want to massage the facts, the numbers are crystal clear – they are still supplying the majority of their doses to richer parts of the world,” said Patrick Wilcken.

As much as these companies might want to massage the facts, the numbers are crystal clear – they are still supplying the majority of their doses to richer parts of the world”

Patrick Wilcken

Pfizer’s claims to have “committed to sharing our scientific tools and insights”, starkly contrasts with the fact that the company has failed to join the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (CTAP), which was established to pool data and knowledge, and is not participating in the WHO’s mRNA vaccine Technology Transfer hub in South Africa, greatly delaying the development of production sites in Africa.

According to the WHO, only 4.4% of the continent’s population have been fully vaccinated and its population is in grave need of access to life-saving vaccines. Pfizer has also actively lobbied against the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Waiver which would temporarily lift intellectual property rights, allowing for expansion of the world’s manufacturing capacity of Covid-19 vaccines.

Furthermore, despite claims that Pfizer’s development and manufacturing costs relating to the Covid-19 vaccine are entirely self-funded, the company has benefited from pre-orders from some of the world’s richest countries, as well as the large government support received by its German partner BioNTech.

Pfizer is not alone in these failures. The other European and US-based Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers, BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have all similarly blocked technology sharing and lobbied against the proposed TRIPS waiver.

According to data provided by Airfinity, a science and analytics company, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson also have an especially poor record on fair vaccine distribution. Approximately 96% of Moderna’s vaccines are still going to upper-middle and high-income countries.

Over the last 50 days, only 100,000 out of 52 million doses delivered went to low-income countries. Johnson & Johnson’s breakdown is also inadequate. According to Airfinity, Johnson & Johnson, has delivered just 11% of its vaccines to low-income countries, and a further 5% to lower-middle income countries, with the remaining 84% going to upper-middle and high-income countries.

“With 50 days left until the end of the year, it’s not too late for these pharma giants to redeem themselves, do the right thing and fulfil their human rights responsibilities. To achieve this, they need to ramp up fair distribution and ensure half the doses they produce before the end of 2021 goes to these countries,” Patrick Wilcken said.

“By taking action now, they could help to vaccinate an extra 1.2 billion people in low and lower-middle income countries by the end of the year – and save at least 2 million* lives.”

Amnesty International is supporting the World Health Organization’s target of vaccinating 40% of those in low and lower-middle-income countries by the end of 2021 with its 100 Day Countdown campaign. The 100 Day Countdown: 2 billion vaccines now! campaign is calling on states and pharmaceutical companies to take urgent action to meet that lifesaving target.

According to Amnesty International this can be achieved if pharmaceutical companies deliver 50% of vaccines they produce between 21 September 2021 and 31 December 2021 to low and lower-middle income countries; states redistribute the hundreds of millions of surplus vaccines currently in their stocks; and if states and pharmaceutical companies urgently increase global supply of Covid-19 vaccines by sharing knowledge and technology.

Amnesty will be holding demonstrations outside the offices of pharmaceutical companies around the world, including Pfizer, during November, calling on the company to stop blocking access to vaccines, start sharing and save lives. 

Notes to editors:

  • On 21 September 2021, Amnesty International launched the 100 Day Countdown, calling on states and pharmaceutical companies to take urgent action to meet that lifesaving target.
  • Amnesty International calculated that if 2 billion vaccines were delivered to 82 low- and lower-middle income countries, an additional 1.2 billion people could be fully vaccinated by the end of 2021. That’s the number of vaccinations needed in for the WHO to meet its 40% target in these countries.
  • *Airfinity estimates that between 100,000 and 225,000 lives can be saved for every 100 million doses delivered – meaning that meeting a target of vaccinating an additional 1.2 billion people in low and lower-middle income countries could save at least 2 million lives.
  • In their response to Amnesty International, Pfizer said: “We recognize and are concerned by the relative lower pace with which vaccines ended up reaching low-income countries, however, it is important to also acknowledge that approximately two thirds of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty are in the middle-income countries. Lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income countries are currently home to 75% of the world’s population and 62% of the world’s poor. Nonetheless, we anticipate that there will be a substantial increase in dose shipments through the end of the year with a particular focus on low- and lower-middle-income countries that are further from global targets.”
  • On the issue of intellectual property rights, Pfizer added: “the intellectual property framework protects innovation and allows for secure transfer of technical knowledge” and that the company “will continue to pursue opportunities to bring new partners into its supply chain network to further accelerate access to the Covid vaccine.”