Pfizer criticized for not giving up Covid vaccine patent; EU to pay €15.50 per dose
Dutch parliamentarians and experts criticized pharmaceutical Pfizer for refusing to give up the patent protection for its Covid-19 vaccine, saying that the American company is putting thousands of lives at risk. The European Union agreed to pay 15.50 euros per dose of the Pfizer vaccine, spending over 10 billion dollars for hundreds of millions of doses, an EU official told Reuters.
"Pfizer's attitude is very bad," Mark Jolink, patent attorney at patent office EP&C, said to the newspaper. "Especially since Pfizer indicated that it will only be able to produce 50 million vaccines worldwide this year and is aiming for 1.3 billion doses next year. That is nowhere near enough to meet global demand. By keeping everything in your own hands, the production delay is enormous. During that time millions of people will contract corona."
By refusing to give up its patent protection, Pfizer is maintaining the exclusive right to produce the vaccine. In the pharmaceutical world, a patent is basically guaranteed pay for work - the pharmaceutical invested time and money into a vaccine without a guarantee that it would work. By keeping the rights, the company can safeguard its ability to earn a return on their investment.
The same applies to this coronavirus vaccine, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said, according to AD. "We are a commercial company and have taken enormous financial risks with the development of our vaccine." When asked, Pfizer told the newspaper that it "wants to share knowledge and expertise with governments and industry partners," but wants to prevent "malicious individuals and institutions from taking advantage of patent gaps and allowing potentially dangerous counterfeit products to reach patients."
Jolink pointed out that competitor Moderna said it will release the patent on its vaccine, at least for as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues. "That is the only way to be able to produce vaccines on a large scale as quickly as possible. I don't really understand Pfizer's attitude either: they'll get rid of all the vaccines they market for a good price anyway. The demand is so massive now after all."
Information obtained by news service Reuters demonstrated the demand and also the cost to governments for purchasing the vaccine. The EU alone will spend billions of euros on this vaccine, and is paying a lower price than the United States. An EU official involved in the process told the news agency that the bloc agreed to pay 15.50 euros per dose, resulting in an overall price of up to 3.1 billion euros for 200 million doses, and increasing to 4.65 billion euros if another optional 100 million doses are ordered.
The Netherlands will get access to 3.89 percent of all vaccines delivered as part of the EU deals, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge has told Parliament on numerous occasions. That would mean nearly 7.8 million vaccine doses from the first order would be delivered to the Netherlands at a cost of over 120.5 million euros, if the pricing detailed by Reuters is accurate. Should the EU exercise their option for another order, the country would be on the hook for over 60 million euros to obtain another 3.9 million doses.
The United States government agreed to pay 19.50 dollars per unit for 100 million doses, with an option to buy another 500 million doses at a a newly-negotiated price, according to Reuters. A second EU official told the news agency that the Europe price is lower because the EU already provided financial support to the development of this vaccine.
Opposition parties GroenLinks, PvdA, and SP criticized Pfizer for clutching to its patent. "Of course, I am very happy there is a vaccine; Pfizer deserves credit for that. But it now seems that pharmaceutical companies can go their own way again and Pfizer places the importance of profit above health," GroenLinks parliamentarian Corrine Ellemeet said to De Gelderlander. Earlier this year, she got unanimous support for a motion asking the government to require pharmaceuticals to make their vaccine knowledge public.
Ellemeet is investigating whether Pfizer can be forced to give up the patent. "This can be done, for example, by means of a compulsory license. Now that is a procedure that takes months. Precious time that we cannot lose during this crisis. In countries such as Germany, Canada, and France they are already adapting legislation for this, so that such a license can be issued more quickly. That should also be possible here in the Netherlands, but the government does not seem to want to take any action."
On Thursday, president Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission said that the European Medicines Agency could approve the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by as early as the second half of December.