Covid-19 vaccine: the waltz of billions

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There are reportedly about 150 labs where researchers are trying to develop a vaccine for Covid-19. Start-ups, bio-tech, universities, Big Pharma: everyone, with their supporters and sponsors, is participating in the race for the Holy Grail, the vaccine that would free us from the threat of the damned virus. But the motivations of both sides are often unclear: to protect human health or… to position themselves to reap gigantic profits?

We will spare you here the description of the various ways in which we imagine activating our immunity to resist the assaults of the disease: whole viruses (dead or alive, but attenuated), pieces of genetic material, proteins of their envelope, with or without adjuvants that boost the immune reaction… It is complex and few media outlets go into detail. Moreover, it is often the journalists of the « economy » rather than the « science » sections who deal with the subject of vaccines: the first sign that should enlighten us on the answer to the question in the intro of this article.


According to the scientists who have taken over the world’s affairs, the vaccine is THE cure in which we must place all our hopes. Whereas in the past it has always taken years to develop and expand the production of vaccines, we are led to believe that in a few months, or at most a year and a half (i.e. mid-2021), we will have the panacea. The concert of nations seems to share this opinion and, on April 20, 2020, the 193 members of the UN adopted a (non-binding) resolution calling for  » equitable access to future Covid-19 vaccines ‚ » emphasizing  » the crucial leadership role of the World Health Organization (WHO).

 » Fair  » is an adjective that we can only agree with, but it can be read in different ways. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that a future vaccine should be considered a  » global public good  » accessible to all. So he convened a summit that raised $8.8 billion in pledges to accelerate vaccine production.

Some are more specific: for example, the Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and the Committee for the Defense of Health, Ethics and Human Rights (CODESEDH) have launched a petition in four languages (Spanish, French, English and Portuguese)(1)for a universal, free Covid-19 vaccine. This call is similar to the one made by another humanist, Riccardo Petrella, at the end of May, who stated that  » Vaccines are global public goods. Life is not a patent. The race for vaccines is not a healthy and fair race. The mainstream media is talking about it as if it were a world soccer championship. It is not about the health of billions of people: the real objective is to win the patent on the vaccine and therefore billions and billions of euros. The priority is billions of euros, not billions of people. People are only a tool for profit « (2). He and his accomplices imagine concrete measures to prevent this race for profit and even propose a Russell tribunal on the crimes that would be committed in the name of money in the fight against Covid-19…

As we shall see, these actions are necessary in the face of the voracity of pharmaceutical companies, although this has not always been the case. After World War II, polio, which is highly contagious, threatened the lives of millions of children because it had no cure. In 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk developed an effective and safe vaccine. Jonas Salk refused to patent the vaccine he had discovered and explained,  » I want to tell people that there is no patent. Is it possible to patent the sun? « . Similarly, in 1957, Dr. Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine and he too relinquished his patent rights in order to facilitate the worldwide dissemination of his discovery as quickly as possible. The ethical conduct of these two scientists has led to the almost total eradication of this disease throughout the world.


65 years later, the world has changed. The lack of solvency of populations exposed to « exotic » viruses had led pharmaceutical companies to lose interest in researching treatments against these viruses, but Covid-19 appears to them as an extraordinary opportunity to increase their turnover and the dividends to be distributed to shareholders(3). As in other sectors essential to human life, Big Pharma is now ready to sacrifice moral values on the altar of productivism and wealth accumulation.

Not only has the pharmaceutical industry already been strengthened by the health crisis, but it has been pre-financed for the research of a possible vaccine, without any compensation given the impatience of the nations. In its selfish logic of « the America first « , Trump quickly launched pre-orders for huge amounts of money to ensure that the United States would be served first if a vaccine was found(4)The company is also seeking to secure a large share of the vaccine pie from the Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca, whose vaccine project, based on research at Oxford University, is said to be in the lead. Challenged on their territory, the European institutions could not organize themselves collectively and it is a heterogeneous alliance composed of Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands that reserved 300 million doses for a sum of 750 million € from June 2020, even before knowing if the serum would pass the safety tests and be effective. In any case, a bet already won for AstraZeneca(5).

We are therefore witnessing a real « geopolitics of vaccines », because the nation that would see the first vaccine appear on its territory would experience a nice increase in its worldwide prestige. The European Union has therefore tried to act and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has organized a kind of telethon, a vast global fundraising operation. In nearly 3 hours, under her enthusiastic animation on the Internet, some sixty speeches by leaders scattered around the world made it possible to collect pledges of nearly €7.4 billion. « Today was a sprint, the start. But what awaits us is the marathon« The president was pleased with the results. When we told you it was a race.


One can fear a real scramble when one or more vaccines appear, with poor countries and individuals being left to their fate. The WHO claims to regulate the sector, but it has made agreements with two international organizations mixing public and private actors and supposed to organize the distribution of vaccines. One can doubt the sincerity of these two « alliances » that claim to be philanthropic.

The GAVI(6) was born in 2000 and counts among its founders and most important contributors, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, allied with the European Commission and governments of rich countries, the United States, France, but also Russia, Qatar. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), established in 2017, also counts the Bill & Melinda Foundation and other countries as contributors — Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Norway and Great Britain.

These public/private unions execute, theoretically under the direction of the WHO, the global vaccine policy. They therefore choose the laboratories that produce vaccines and finance them(7)… in a total opacity. Kate Elder, a vaccination specialist with Médecins Sans Frontières, denounces:  » There is no transparency about the choice of producing laboratories or the real cost of production despite public funding « . Wouldn’t the criterion of choice be the fact that the « generous donors » are shareholders of the chosen firms?

These organizations would then be responsible for distributing these vaccines after pre-ordering doses, « through an allocation mechanism to be determined by WHO  » according to Gavi.  » Doses will be distributed equitably as they become available between self-financing countries that will pay for their doses and developing countries that otherwise could not afford to pay for the vaccine ‚ » GAVI claims.

75 countries would be willing to participate financially in pooled vaccine procurement coordinated by GAVI and CEPI. 90 low-income countries would see their access to vaccines supported by the distribution system put in place.  » Together, this group of 165 countries represents over 60% of the world’s population. The group includes representatives from all continents and more than half of the world’s G20 economies « , said the WHO. This means that the remaining 40% (Algeria, Colombia, Gabon, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey…) will have serious difficulties to access the Covid-19 vaccine. The market, even stronger, will remain in a position of strength to impose its leonine prices.


Historically, vaccines (rabies, smallpox, measles, polio…) have been hailed as symbols of progress that have saved hundreds of millions of lives. But today, people are more and more reluctant to be vaccinated, even in the face of the Covid-19, which is constantly presented to us as a monster that we should be very, very afraid of. The lies, the flip-flops, the inconsistencies, the experts who turn out to be advocates of causes or servants of industrial sectors: so many errors have seriously degraded the trust of citizens in science and in their leaders, as was shown in the article « Official medicine: widespread loss of trust ». (8) In France, only 27% of the 1,023 people surveyed said they would definitely be vaccinated (30% probably yes, 16% probably no, 16% definitely not)(9). In Belgium, a study by the University of Ghent shows that only 35% of citizens are now willing to blindly follow government orders, compared to 81% at the beginning of the pandemic. (10)

The distrust of many citizens comes from the fact that they realize more and more clearly that they are tools for the profit of a privileged few. This is true for health, but there are other sectors (agriculture in particular) where private patents are the means found by multinationals to take away from the State the role that it is responsible for regulating collective life, rights and life. If we want to regain some confidence, it will be necessary to free science, health and the economy in general from predatory finance. As requested by many, the future vaccine should be considered as a global public good, accessible to all, free of charge and without any binding obligation. Then, perhaps, humanity will consider itself as a community of united subjects and not as objects that, like all living things, some would like to patent.

Alain Adriaens


France, never short of burlesque episodes, has known the Sanofi saga. While this French multinational drug company has unconcealed connections with the top of the French government (Macron calls his boss by his first name, Paul), now this same boss announces that if his company succeeds in finding a vaccine against Covid-19, the United States would be the first to benefit. The U.S. government has placed a large pre-order with Sanofi and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the U.S. research funding agency linked to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has awarded Sanofi $30 million for a vaccine research program.

Angry, Emmanuel was moved by this treachery and almost forgot who he was serving, as he declared that it would be necessary for this vaccine to be a global public good, extracted from the laws of the market. He quickly contacted his friend Paul (Hudson) and Sanofi’s board of directors squirmed to try to calm the scandal and affirmed that no country would be deprived of their vaccine… even if a preference for the US would give them a few days or weeks head start.

It must be said that Sanofi has been at the center of criticism for years:

- scandal of its drug, Depakine®, which disabled between 15,000 and 30,000 children (whom Sanofi refused to compensate);

- update(11) of the antisocial practices of the multinational by the magazine Fakir and its editor/MP François Ruffin;

- denunciation of the small gifts granted by the French State to its protégé: the CGT union revealed that Sanofi receives between 110 and 130 million in research tax credits per year from the French State, while having reduced its workforce by 5,000 jobs in 12 years and announcing a further 1,700 job cuts in the future, despite a 7% increase in its turnover in the first half of 2020(12);

- Continued lavish gifts to shareholders: another €4 billion in 2020.

And now the flagship of the French pharmaceutical industry, showered with gifts and praise, is falling into the arms (laden with dollars) of Trump. You can’t trust anyone anymore…

Notes et références
  3. Le secteur pharmaceutique est un des rares à continuer à arroser ses actionnaires de dividendes plantureux. Une ONG néerlandaise spécialisée dans l’analyse des pratiques des multinationales, Somo, vient de sortir une étude assassine pour le secteur. De 2000 à 2018, les 27 entreprises du Big Pharma étudiées ont vu passer leur dette de 60 milliards de $ à 518 milliards, soit de 21% à 72% de leur chiffre d’affaires. Cet afflux d’argent a très peu servi à la recherche, mais, par contre, la rémunération des actionnaires a grimpé de… 400% ! Ce constat fait dire à l’ONG que l’objectif des firmes du Big Pharma n’est pas de produire des médicaments utiles à des prix abordables, mais qu’elles sont devenues des sociétés d’investissement qui attirent par des rendements indécents les plus fortunés de la planète (source :
  4. L’administration américaine a investi en mars 456 millions $ dans un vaccin candidat développé par Johnson & Johnson, 486 millions en avril dans Moderna et jusqu’à 1,2 milliard en mai dans AstraZeneca qui travaille sur le développement d’un vaccin en partenariat avec l’université d’Oxford. Un crédit de 628 millions $ a été accordé à Emergent Biosolutions EBS.N pour accroître ses capacités de production d’un éventuel vaccin et Regeneron Pharmaceuticals a bénéficié de 450 millions $. Dans le cadre d’une opération de « capture du marché » nommée Operation Warp Speed, un partenariat public-privé lancé par la Maison blanche pour faciliter et accélérer la production de traitements et de vaccins et destinée à s’assurer les chances de disposer d’au moins un vaccin sûr et efficace dès la fin de cette année, Début juillet, l’administration fédérale américaine a accordé à la société Novavax le crédit le plus énorme, 1,6 milliard de dollars, avec l’espoir que le laboratoire pharmaceutique soit en mesure de produire 100 millions de doses d’un éventuel vaccin d’ici janvier 2021. Quelques heures plus tard, l’action Novavax bondissait de 28% à la Bourse de New York. En juin, le département américain de la Défense avait déjà accordé au laboratoire un crédit de 60 millions $ pour l’aider à produire 10 millions de doses de son vaccin cette année. L’Operation Warp Speed soutient aussi Pfizer et Merck.
  5. AstraZeneca : fin 2019, effectif de 70.600 personnes, capitalisation de 125 milliards $, chiffre d’affaire de 24,3 milliards $, bénéfice net de 1,335 milliard $ (source Wikipedia).
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  7. Par exemple, le GAVI a réservé 300 millions de doses à AstraZeneca pour 663 millions € et la CEPI soutient 9 projets de vaccins contre le Covid-19 à hauteur de 829 millions $.
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