Home Covid-19 Why Oxfam Can Go Boil Their Heads Over Vaccine Patents

Why Oxfam Can Go Boil Their Heads Over Vaccine Patents



We have the usual outbreak of that virulent collectivism over at Oxfam. People are making money out of creating a better world – quick, stop them!

“This is a public health emergency, not a private profit opportunity,” said Anna Marriott, a health policy adviser at Oxfam, which is part of the alliance. “We should not be letting corporations decide who lives and who dies while boosting their profits.

“It is appalling that big pharma is making huge payouts to wealthy shareholders in the face of this global health emergency.”

Asinine stupidity on show here.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance argues that the profits made by the companies are inappropriate when most of the world cannot get the vaccines they need, which are expensive and in short supply. Campaigners want to see the companies waive their patents and help set up factories to make affordable versions of their vaccines around the world.

The alliance estimates that Pfizer has paid out $8.44bn in dividends, Johnson & Johnson $10.5bn in dividends and $3.2bn in share buybacks, and AstraZeneca $3.6bn in dividends.

Those payments out are not, of course, anything at all to do with covid or vaccines for it. They relate to the activities of previous years.

But let us examine the underlying claim. Folks shouldn’t make money out of pharma research. That is, after all, the real claim.

The demand for vaccines, at a time when the global economy is at a standstill, is responsible for a new wave of billionaires, it says. Uğur Şahin, the founder of BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer to produce the vaccine he and his wife invented, now has shares worth $5.9bn. Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, which produced a vaccine with similar mRNA technology, is worth $5.2bn.

Those two German Turks for example. Should they make lots of money out of a disaster? Hell yes. Two highly talented people have spent their entire working lives on mRNA vaccines. They’ve swallowed a few hundred millions of capital along the way – hey, maybe it’s only a few tens of millions. The end result has been a technology available to us just when we wanted to have said technology available to us. Ain’t that nice?

The thing being, well, how valuable is that technology to us? To a reasonable guess the global economy is about $100 trillion a year. That’s around $300 billion a day at this level of accuracy. Covid sliced what, 20% off that? So, we’ve a daily – daily – cost of $60 billion.

mRNA vaccines speeded up vaccine development by what? 60 days as compared to earlier technologies? OK, you have some different number but that just changes the calculation, not the point. We gain, as a species, some $3.6 trillion from the invention of mRNA vaccines.

So, what are we, pikers or something? Unwilling to shower a few single billions on those who have given us $3.6 trillion?

Except even that’s not the correct calculation. We don’t make people rich, we don’t allow people to become rich, as a result of their delivering value to us, not in the sense of this is why we set the system up this way. Sure, only people who do deliver value to us get to become rich but that’s not the pragmatic point of the system at all.

That point is that if this generation of people who have delivered $4 trillion to us all gain a $billion here and there then the next generation of people who might deliver $trillions are tempted to try it out. It is not a reward for having made vaccines. It is a temptation to the people who might solve our next problem.

At which point Oxfam can – and should – go boil their heads. Not that the extract of the head cheese will be worth anything which is why we’ll not reward them for producing it.



  1. The idea that corporations should not make money out of vaccines in a pandemic – AstraZeneca have tried that and the resultant vilification has caused them (deputy CEO, I think) to say that they will never do so again.
    [German media saying it doesn’t work in the elderly because journalist cannot understand what he read, Macron saying it doesn’t work before opting for an AZ vaccine himself … BBC has a big spread on Oz vaccination going slowly ‘cos EU banned export of vaccines to Oz (but not to EU-favoured countries).
    Oxfam must surely know that AZ said they weren’t going to make any money out of the pandemic so why refer to the AZ dividend?]
    Are the People’s Vaccine Alliance offering to repay the losses suffered by all those companies who have made an unsuccessful attempt to develop vaccines? Well?

    • I do not give to charities that pay their CEO £150K+. Local works much better. Obviously Oxfam is also run by morons who write such nonsense. I am biased as I have worked in commercial medicine with big pharma.

  2. The temptation is irrelevant – there are very many idealistic young people who would put a lot of effort into attempts to cure the world’s ailments. What matters is that by letting BioNTech (and the like) get a lot of money for producing a useful vaccine, we are providing resources to those who have proved to be good at it. While there’s always a large element of luck, giving the resources to the people who have a proven track record is a much better bet than giving them to whoever the politicians or bureaucrats think will succeed.

  3. Charles

    I think Tim’s argument works at one remove. Maybe the young and innocent will flail away without any monetary promises. But the folk who fund them won’t.

    So there needs to be money made now upon success, for there to be investment money in the future. I think it’s really quite difficult to invent, test, test broadly, test very braodly, and manufacture a drug for hundreds of millions of people with jjust your youthful enthusiasm…


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


in British English
expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

Support Us

Recent posts

The Bit That Robert Lighthizer Doesn’t Get

It's right here in the opening sentence of his piece in the New York Times: The Senate recently passed a bill intended to bolster America’s...

Brexit Brings Us Cheap Wine

There's a long way to go on this but this is indeed a start: The U.K. government said it will scrap a piece of planned...

Some At The Post Office Should Be Facing Significant Jail Time

Whether it's just a few or the many still remains to be worked out but there are definitely those at the Post Office who...

Another Beautiful Theory Destroyed By A Mere Fact

Apparently, so we're told, crime is soaring in the United States. But that's OK, we know the reason why. We even know what to...

Idiots – US Life Expectancy Hasn’t Fallen In The Slightest

It's important - actually, vital in both meanings here - to know what is being measured and how in order to understand what the...

Recent comments