While people are suffering the terrible consequences of Covid-19 and the lockdown, capitalist owners of pharmaceutical companies in India and on the world scale are reaping enormous profits. They are taking advantage of people’s desperation to market all kinds of medicines at exorbitant prices.
Stupendously high profit is being made by pharma companies by selling questionable drugs for Covid. For example, Remdesivir is a drug that is being sold for Rs. 4800-5400 per dose, while its cost of production is less than Rs. 750. This drug is the monopoly of the US pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences. The Government of India has permitted only two Indian companies, Cipla and Hetero, to sell this drug in our country.
The case of the Tocilizumab injection over which the Swiss pharmaceutical multinational Roche has a worldwide monopoly, is even more mind-boggling. Roche has allowed its import and distribution by only one Indian drug company, Cipla. This keeps its supply limited and the price high. It costs around Rs. 40,000 here. How many people in India can afford that? The same injection will earn even more profit in the US where it is priced at US$2100 (about Rs. 1,55,000)!
No medicine has so far been proved to cure people affected by the Corona virus. The Ministry of Health is not telling the people that Remdesivir and Tocilizumab have not been proven to be cures for the virus. People are not being informed that these drugs are being sold on an experimental basis. There is no requirement of written and signed consent of the patients or their relatives. The Central Government is neither monitoring the supply of these drugs nor regulating their prices.
While allied industries, like those making PPE kits, other equipment, sanitizers, etc. are also milking the pandemic for all their worth, the COVID-19 vaccine promises to be even more profitable for pharmaceutical and vaccine companies. A big difference between drugs and vaccines is that vaccines are given to healthy people. So the potential customer base is many times larger! In addition to this, there are vaccines that stay effective for only a limited duration. This means repeated sales will be possible to billions of healthy people in the world!
Nearly 200 vaccines of six different types are currently under development in the world, including 7 in India. Production capacities of billions of doses a year are being put together. The aim of the vaccine companies is clearly to vaccinate every human being on the globe! The biggest of pharma companies and vaccine producers are involved in this race. Production facilities are being set up even while vaccine is under development.
The Serum Institute of India, which is the largest producer of vaccines in the world, has agreed to sell the vaccine at US$ 3 (Rs. 220) per person to governments in low income countries (LICs). It is aiming to produce about 2 billion doses of vaccine per year. People in LICs who are not covered by their governments will have to pay at least US$ 6 (Rs. 440) each.
If the Indian government bears the cost of vaccinating one third of the country’s population, about 45 crore people, and the rest are made to bear the cost themselves, this vaccine will create business of Rs. 45000 crore in the next three years!
The US Government has agreed to pay $40 (about Rs. 3000) per person for the vaccine being developed by Pfizer, the largest pharma company in the world, as against the likely cost of less than $2 per dose! The total Covid vaccine sales around the world could be $40-50 billion (Rs. 3 to 3.5 lakh crore) over the next two-three years.
This translates into more than Rs. 370 per person grabbed by vaccine companies from everyone in the world! It’s the lure of earning mega profits that is inducing pharma companies to spread the message that this Covid pandemic will not end until all people of the world are vaccinated. The fact that governments around the world are also propagating this shows the enormous clout and influence wielded by the pharma capitalists over government policy.
The pharma industry has been justifying its absurdly high prices of drugs and vaccines by claiming that the high cost of development and years of effort have to be recovered. However, development of a vaccine for Covid-19 is being financed by government budgets. Most pharma companies are incurring no cost of development. In India, the government is funding the development of vaccine by Bharat Biotech, a private pharma company.
Vaccine development normally takes 6-10 years to be able to confirm its full safety and efficacy. For Covid-19, the whole process is being short-circuited to 8-12 months. Regulatory authorities have been giving emergency approvals. Trials of the vaccines will only give information about the immediate or short term side effects. Long term effects of the approved vaccines will not be known. It will also not be known as to how long it will be effective. The optimum dose would not have been worked out.
Some of the technologies being used to develop vaccines involve RNA modifications. Will that have an impact on the human gene? Will it affect future generations? No one knows. So even if the vaccines are found to work in the short term, they will be unproven for long term efficacy and safety.
What is a matter of grave concern is that there are reports that the vaccine may be made mandatory for international and domestic travel. With the political clout that the pharma industry enjoys, these vaccines are likely to be forced on people all over the world.
The pharma industry has the history of using health crises to push unnecessary drugs and vaccines to earn huge profits. It is doing the same with the Covid crisis. Governments in capitalist countries are hand in glove with the pharma companies. Public funds are being used to enable pharma companies to earn huge profits.
Read the next focus article: Pharmaceutical Industry and the Super-Exploitation of Workers