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Governments must demand pharma make all COVID-19 vaccine deals public

  • Deals from pharmaceutical companies to develop COVID-19 vaccines are shrouded in secrecy, and details from them that are released reveal worrying terms.
  • At the same time, the six front running vaccine candidates have had a total of over US$12 billion of tax payer and public money poured into them.
  • MSF urges governments – which have provided funding to these companies – to demand transparency on vaccine licensing deals and on trial costs and data.

Geneva – Governments must urgently demand transparency from pharmaceutical corporations on all COVID-19 vaccine licensing agreements, as well as clinical trial costs and data, says Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The call comes as billions of dollars of taxpayer money have gone towards the development of these potential vaccines, and recently disclosed deals from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca reveal worrying terms.

AstraZeneca has committed not to profit off any COVID-19 vaccines ‘for the duration of the pandemic’ and to sell the vaccine at cost, in a deal with Oxford University. However, another deal to develop a COVID-19 vaccine with Brazilian public research body Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), recently revealed that AstraZeneca has given itself the power to declare the pandemic over as soon as July 2021. This means that, after July 2021, AstraZeneca could charge governments and other purchasers high prices for a vaccine that was entirely funded by public money.

The public has the right to know what’s in these deals. There is no place for secrets during a pandemic; there is too much at stake. Kate Elder, Senior Vaccines Policy Advisor, MSF Access Campaign

Pharmaceutical corporations have a very poor track record of transparency across the board, from licensing deals and technology transfers to costs of R&D and clinical trial data. The little information that has been revealed around AstraZeneca’s not-for-profit promises should be a warning sign that pharma cannot be trusted to act in the interest of public health.

“As long as we don’t know what’s in these deals, pharma will continue to hold the power to decide who gets access when, and at what price,” said Kate Elder, Senior Vaccines Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “Without decisive action from governments demanding more transparency from companies, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is in jeopardy.”

“The public has the right to know what’s in these deals,” said Elder. “There is no place for secrets during a pandemic; there is too much at stake.”

The licensing deals struck for a number of other companies racing to develop COVID-19 vaccines also remain cloaked in secrecy, despite unprecedented levels of public funding. Over US$12 billion has been poured into the research and development (R&D), clinical trials and manufacture of six front-runner candidate COVID-19 vaccines.The six candidates and the amount that each has received in public funding so far are vaccines being developed by AstraZeneca/Oxford University (over $1.7 billion), Johnson&Johnson/BiologicalE ($1.5 billion), Pfizer/BioNTech ($2.5 billion), GlaxoSmithKline/Sanofi Pasteur ($2.1 billion), Novavax/Serum Institute of India (nearly $2 billion), and Moderna/Lonza ($2.48 billion).

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MSF also urged COVID-19 vaccine developers to disclose clinical trial costs and data. Without this information, it is impossible for people, treatment providers and governments to demand affordable prices and scrutinise critical safety and efficacy data. Given that R&D and manufacturing costs have been largely – or entirely, in the case of AstraZeneca and Moderna – offset by public contributions, the public deserves to see a transparent breakdown of these costs and data.

“Despite repeated assurances from heads of state that any COVID-19 vaccine will be a global public good, and despite claims that we’re seeing industry at its best, the reality is that up to this point it is clear that pharma cannot be trusted to act in the interest of public health, even in these unprecedented times,” said Roz Scourse, Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “Even with billions of dollars of public, taxpayer money paying for these vaccines, and billions of lives at stake, we continue to be left in the dark, leaving us scrambling to determine critical information such as the price and supply of any future COVID-19 vaccines, and what this means for equitable access.”

Governments must be bold at this critical juncture for the health of billions of people, take responsibility for the billions of public dollars that they have handed over for these vaccines, and demand that pharmaceutical corporations urgently make public all licenses, agreements, clinical trial costs and data related to COVID-19 vaccines.

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Report 2 December 2020