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Pfizer making 'misleading' claims about vaccine distribution, says Amnesty International

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Pfizer making 'misleading' claims about vaccine distribution, says Amnesty International. Photo: Getty Images
Pfizer expects to generate $33.5bn in COVID-19 vaccine sales in 2021. Photo: Getty

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (PFE) is making “misleading statements” about its commitment to vaccine fairness and is sending most of its COVID-19 jabs to wealthy nations, Amnesty International has claimed.

This comes as Pfizer expects to generate $33.5bn (£25bn) in COVID-19 vaccine sales in 2021, up from previous estimates of $26bn, as per its second quarter earnings update.

“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,” said Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s head of business and human rights.

“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."

Pfizer developed its messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech (BNTX). In May, Pfizer’s CEO said the two companies were pledging to provide 2 billion doses to middle- and low-income countries over the next 18 months.

"We expect to provide 1 billion of these doses to low- and middle-income countries this year. And we pledge to deliver another 1 billion doses to these countries in 2022," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had said at the time.

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Amnesty argues that Pfizer has combined low, lower-middle, and upper-middle countries into one group and referred to them as “low- and middle-income”.

Within this “very broad category”, the bulk of Pfizer’s doses have been going to “upper-middle” income countries such as Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand, Amnesty has claimed.

Pfizer said it had shipped a total of 2 billion doses by the end of September. In a letter to Amnesty in November, the company said only about 15 million of of these went 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 Wilcken.

In response, Pfizer said it is concerned by the relative lower pace with which vaccines ended up reaching low-income countries, but said it is important to acknowledge that some two-thirds of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty are in "middle-income countries."

Pfizer's stock performance over the last month. Chart: Yahoo Finance UK
Pfizer's stock performance over the last month. Chart: Yahoo Finance UK

"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," it said.

Amnesty has also accused Pfizer for failing to join the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and not participating in the WHO’s mRNA vaccine Technology Transfer hub in South Africa, which is delaying the development of production sites in Africa.

According to Amnesty, Pfizer has actively lobbied against the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Waiver which would temporarily lift intellectual property (IP) rights and allow for expansion of the world’s manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccines.

Amnesty said BioNTech, as well as vaccine makers Moderna (MRNA), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and AstraZeneca (AZN) have also done the same.

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Wilcken has urged these companies “to ramp up fair distribution and ensure half the doses they produce before the end of 2021 goes to these countries.”

On the IP issue, Pfizer said: “The intellectual property framework protects innovation and allows for secure transfer of technical knowledge.” The company added “it will continue to pursue opportunities to bring new partners into its supply chain network to further accelerate access to the COVID vaccine.”

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