Big pharma executives and shareholders saw their wealth skyrocket in the week after the Omicron variant was discovered, with eight top Pfizer and Moderna shareholders making a combined $10.3bn.
Campaigners have accused pharma executives of “making a killing from a crisis they helped to create”, blaming “grotesque” levels of vaccine inequality for creating the conditions for the Omicron variant to emerge.
They are calling on governments to support a waiver of intellectual property rules on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to allow low and middle-income countries to manufacture jabs for themselves, breaking big pharma monopolies and increasing overall supplies.
Moderna’s shares skyrocketed after the announcement and settled at $310.61 per share on Wednesday 1 December, up 13.6 per cent from $273.39 per share since Wednesday 24 November, the day before the announcement.
Pfizer’s shares rose by 7.4 per cent from $50.91/share to $54.68 per share.
Moderna’s CEO, Stephane Bancel, personally became more than $824m richer in the week after the announcement, with the value of his shares rising from $6,052,522,978 to $6,876,528,630.
He sold off 10,000 shares for $319 each on 26 November, the day after the variant was announced, cashing out $3.19m.
At close of business on Tuesday, Bancel’s shares had grown by $1.7bn since the announcement, before falling after the company lost a legal dispute over patents, as various media included Reuters reported.
Bancel has refused to share the recipe for Moderna’s vaccine with the World Health Organisation to help scale-up manufacturing of mRNA vaccines through its new hub in South Africa.
WHO scientists are now trying to reverse-engineer the vaccine. His company is also waging a legal battle to erase the role of massive public funding and public scientists in developing the jab, according to Nature magazine.
Meanwhile, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla made $339,236 in the week after the announcement of the variant, with his smaller portfolio rising from $4,581,035 to $4,920,270.
Blackrock, Vanguard and Morgan Stanley
Institutional investors have also made a killing from the variant.
Blackrock’s Moderna and Pfizer shares increased by more than $2.5bn in the week after the announcement; $1,000,553,995 from Moderna and $1,548,822,709 from Pfizer.
Vanguard Group made $2.7bn; $1,011,692,117 from Moderna and $1,733,982,482 from Pfizer.
Moderna shareholders Baillie Gifford & Co increased by $1,571,329,916; Morgan Stanley increased by $447,476,028.50 and Flagship pioneering increased by $654,365,415. Pfizer investors State Street went up $1,054,857,992 and Capital World gained $909,930,434.
Just 6 per cent of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated, while pharmaceutical companies sell booster jabs to rich nations. The ten Southern African countries on the UK’s travel red list, where it is suspected that Omicron may have emerged, have a combined vaccination rate of just 14 per cent, according to Our World in Data.
For more than a year, South Africa has led calls from low and middle-income countries to temporarily waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, to allow wider manufacturing and more equitable access to medical technologies.
A waiver is supported by the WHO and the governments of most countries, including the United States, but the UK and EU, driven by Germany, have blocked the measure from progressing at the World Trade Organisation.
In May of 2020, the WHO set up its Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), a programme to facilitate the transfer of vaccine technology and know-how to accredited manufacturers. But big pharmaceutical companies have boycotted the scheme, which Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla dismissed as “nonsense”.