Coronavirus: Global Collective Commons vs Big Pharma

Part 3 of Collective Commons, Debts and Pharmaceutical companies’ Patents

21 October 2021 by Eric Toussaint

 Research and production of vaccines were largely financed by public money

The development and production of anti-Covid vaccines were extensively financed by public money

The development and production of anti-Covid vaccines were extensively financed by public grants. The vaccine sold by AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish company, was devised by researchers at the University of Oxford, who demanded that it be made available at cost price. Has this commitment been honoured by AstraZeneca? It is most unlikely since the company will not publish either its contracts with buyers or its production costs. What is established, on the other hand, is that the company’s CEO, Pascal Soriot, obtained a significant pay rise, in 2021, it amounted to £15.4 million. [1]

The mRNA vaccines sold by Pfizer (US) - BioNTech (Germany) and by Moderna (US), which were released within less than a year, partly rely on former patents, among which a 2005 patent for a technology devised by the University of Pennsylvania to produce a mRNA that is harmless to the organism.

The innovative technique of stabilizing the spike protein is also a product of publicly financed research. Indeed, the specific patent filed by the US government - patent number 10,960,070, better known as the ’070’ patent - relates to the way in which the spike protein is stabilized in the vaccine, a technique that was developed by the vaccine research centre of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a US government agency. This is a key element in the mRNA vaccine jointly developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2020. [2]

If the US government decided to sue Moderna, the company could have to pay over a billion dollars just on its sales to the end of the year

Several companies are paying royalties to the US government for the use of the ’070’ patent, including the German company BioNTech, which developed its Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer. Moderna, on the other hand, has not made any payments to the US Treasury so far.

According to Christopher Morten, deputy director of the Technology Law and Policy Clinic at New York University, Moderna breaches the NIH’s patent with every dose of vaccine it produces or sells in the US. In a statement to the Financial Times in April 2021, he adds that if the US government decided to sue Moderna, the company could have to pay over a billion dollars just on its sales to the end of the year. [3]

On other occasions the US government has been known to defend its patents. Following protests against the abusive prices demanded by the US company Gilead Sciences for its AIDS preventive drug, Truvada, the Health department sued the company in 2019, for breaching a government owned patent. [4] At the beginning of the judiciary procedure, Truvada could cost up to 20,000 dollars per year in the United States, but was sold as a generic drug elsewhere for only 6 dollars a month. The litigation is still open. [5] Meanwhile, in the second term of 2021 Gilead Science sold its antiviral drug Remdesivir, used on patients hospitalized with Covid-19 for a total of $829 million. Gilead Science anticipates that the sales of Veklury, the trademark for Remdesivir, will reach somewhere between $2.7 and 3.1 billion for the year 2021. Now, in France, in September 2020, the Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) found Remdesivir’s efficiency to be “weak”. The World Health Organization (WHO) eventually advised against its use in November. This is another illustration of a private company making vast profits with a drug whose efficiency is questionable. [6]

 Western governments have generously financed the large private pharmaceutical companies

Under President Donald Trump the US pre-financed research, clinical trials and production for $11 billion. Europe paid at least €2 billion in 2020 alone

During Donald Trump’s mandate, the US pre-financed research, clinical trials and production for $11 billion. Johnson & Johnson had received over $450 million as early as March 2020 then one billion dollars for 100 million doses de vaccine. At the very beginning of the health crisis, Pfizer and BioNtech received close to $2 billion for 100 million doses. Moderna literally hit the jackpot, with $2.5 billion to fund clinical trials and produce 100 million doses. The US also granted $1.6 billion to Novavax biotech for 100 million doses. AstraZeneca received $1.3 billion for 300 million doses. From January 2021 the Biden administration has further massively financed the pharmaceutical industry through placing new orders.

On the European side, we read in November 2020 that the European Commission had signed agreements with six pharmaceutical laboratories: Moderna (160 million doses), AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (400 million doses each), Sanofi-GSK (300 million doses), Pfizer-BioNtech (300 million doses) and CureVac (405 million doses). In 2020, it amounted to €2 billion but financial assistance to private companies has sharply risen since, [7] as we saw in part 2. In the spring of 2021 the EC’s orders to Moderna soared from 160 million to 460 million doses .

 The scandal Moderna, an expert in tax avoidance

According to Public Citizen, the vaccine was entirely developed thanks to tax-payers’ money

Moderna was founded in 2010. Until the coronavirus pandemic, its turnover was low and it was running at a loss. Moderna’s anti-Covid vaccine, nicknamed the people’s vaccine by the consumers’ association Public Citizen, was entirely developed thanks to tax-payers’ money, mainly from the US government. Indeed, as mentioned above, Moderna used the findings of research on mRNA carried out by the University of Pennsylvania. Moreover a key patent needed to produce a vaccine was developed by the US National Institute of Health (NIH) and is the property of the US government. The mRNA vaccine itself was developed jointly by Moderna and the NIH and as a consequence, the patent on the Vaccine is jointly owned by the US government and Moderna.

In an excellent report on Moderna researcher Vincent Kiezebrink of the Dutch NGO SOMO explains that “according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, by December 2020 Moderna had received US$4.1bn for vaccine development, clinical trials and manufacturing. Approximately $1bn of this was granted by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an agency that is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The contract with BARDA reportedly contains a clause that requires Moderna to publish the proportion of its investment financed by the US government.” [8]

In December 2020 Moderna had received $4.1 billion

Again according to Vincent Kiezebrink, the CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), which participates in the COVAX initiative mentioned in part 2, also granted a $900,000 subsidy to Moderna in January 2020 to develop its mRNA vaccine. Moderna agreed to the CEPI’s principles of fair access, which specify that vaccines must be distributed according to needs and at affordable prices to populations at risk, particularly in low- or middle-income countries. Although it accepted the grant with those conditions attached, so far Moderna has mainly sold its vaccines to rich countries.

 Moderna’s high prices

For Moderna as for other Big Pharma companies the coronavirus pandemic was a windfall. The price of a Moderna share multiplied by 20 from December 2019 to September 2021

Moderna’s only commercial product is its anti-Covid vaccine, known as mRNA-1273. The company expects sales in 2021 to amount to about $18.4 billion. It has already signed agreements for sales of approximately 1.15 billion doses in 2021-2022. About 84% of sales are in the US and the EU, who ordered 500 million and 460 million vaccine doses respectively.

It is estimated that Moderna bills the US government 15 dollars (12.9 €) per dose. A contract between Moderna and the EU, known as ‘agreement on advance purchase’, that was leaked to the press over the winter 2020-2021, shows that the European Commission and the EU member states agreed on a total price of $22.50 (€19.50) per dose. In the summer of 2021 Moderna announced that the sale price to the EU would be raised to €21.50.

Moderna anticipates that production costs will amount to about 20% of its sales in 2021. If we divide Moderna’s expected profits by its turnover for 2021, it means that for each euro taxpayers contribute to buy a Moderna vaccine, the company garners a net profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. of €0.44 (44 cents), and thus about half of Moderna’s turnover will consist of profits, i.e. an exceptionally high margin. [9]

It can be said that for Moderna as for other Big Pharma companies the coronavirus pandemic is a windfall. The price of a Moderna share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. was multiplied by 20 from December 2019 to September 2021. Over a shorter period from September 2020 to September 2021 Moderna’s NASDAQ share rose by 500% while as a whole NASDAQ rose by ‘only’ 31% over the same period. [10]

 Moderna declares its income in tax havens so as to pay as little tax as possible

Moderna and the State of Delaware

Moderna’s owners are experts in tax avoidance. They set up the parent company in the state of Delaware, where the company has neither production nor medical research

Moderna’s owners are experts in tax avoidance. They have set up the parent company in the state of Delaware, where the company has neither production nor medical research. With extremely low rates of taxation on companies Delaware is well-known as a tax haven Tax haven A territory characterized by the following five independent criteria:
(a) opacity (via bank secrecy or another mechanism such as trusts);
(b) low taxes, sometimes as low as zero for non-residents;
(c) easy regulations permitting the creation of front companies and no necessity for these companies to have a real activity on the territory;
(d) lack of cooperation with the inland revenue, customs and/or judicial departments of other countries;
(e) weak or non-existent financial regulation. Switzerland, the City of London and Luxembourg receive the majority of the capital placed in tax havens. Others exist, of course, such as the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, Hong Kong and other exotic locations.
. [11] While it counts less than 1 million inhabitants (973,000 in 2019), it counts about 1.5 million company registrations. [12] As we can read in part 2, the pharmaceutical industry draws a large part of its income from royalties on the use of patents. Now, the state of Delaware does not tax income derived from patents at all. Moderna owns 780 patents in the state of Delaware, 595 of which mention the mRNA technology which is the very basis of its anti-Covid vaccine. The Delaware government allows companies based on its territory to keep incomes from patents secret since they need not declare them to the local tax administration. This makes it difficult, if not downright impossible, to determine the amount of royalties Moderna collects in Delaware from all over the world.

Moderna and the Swiss Canton of Basel

EU countries are paying Moderna over € 10 billion for the purchase of 460 million doses of its anti-CoViD vaccine

EU countries are paying Moderna over €10 billion for the purchase of 460 million doses of its anti-CoViD vaccine. More orders and thus payments will follow. In July 2020, in order to avoid paying taxes in an EU member state on the incomes of its sales in the EU, Moderna created a company in the Basel Canton called Moderna Switzerland GmbH. This is what Vincent Kiezebrink brings out in the above quoted study. The official rate of taxation in Basel is 13% but the actual rate is below 8% and it is likely that Moderna negotiated a tax ruling that will further reduce its taxation rate. On 21 September 2021 the Swiss representative Stéphanie Prezioso exposed Moderna’s manoeuver and the complicity of the Helvetic government at the Federal Council of the Helvetic Republic: “In the terms of the contract signed with the European Commission, the Moderna company demanded that it receive the money for the purchase of its vaccines in Switzerland, in the Basel Canton, where Moderna Switzerland GmbH (founded in June 2020, when the vaccine was ready!) can take advantage of the reform on company taxation to pay ludicrously low taxes.” She raised the following question: “The agreement between Moderna and the European Commission amounts to tax avoidance in terms of billions of dollars for our European neighbours. Does not this run against the objective that the Federal Council had set for itself, namely, in its own terms (…), to act ‘in favour of a fair, affordable and fast global access to vaccines, medicines and diagnosis against Covid-19’.” [13] Her speech was echoed in Geneva papers. [14] Miguel Urban, the Spanish MEP for Anticapitalistas, also denounced this financial scandal in the alternative media El Salto, claiming that “the only reason payments are made in Switzerland is its status as a tax haven and an opaque jurisdiction.” [15] The Spanish MEP repeatedly questioned the European Commission to know whether it deliberately encouraged a system of tax engineering to cheat on tax authorities in the various member States of the EU and whether it considered carrying out an inquiry or ask the Swiss government if Moderna is using Switzerland to avoid taxes on the sales of vaccines in Europe.

 The European Commission’s complicity with Big Pharma, the example of the contract signed with Moderna in December 2020

It is stipulated that in the case of the vaccine having serious side effects or causing deaths Moderna will not be held responsible by the European Commission or the member States. The agreement also stipulates that Moderna remains the owner of the patents to the vaccine and retains full authority over its use

The dome of secret under which the European Commission and its member States negotiate with Big Pharma has been somewhat lifted thanks to the publishing of an important agreement between the Commission and, above mentioned, Moderna Switzerland GmbH. [16] The agreement can be accessed on the Italian radiotelevision website. We learn that the European Commission makes an advance down payment to Moderna equivalent to $4.50 per dose, that is the production cost of the initial batch of doses. What’s more, it is stipulated that in the case of the vaccine having serious side effects or being the cause of deaths Moderna will not be held responsible by the Commission or the member States. On the contrary, the member States agree to reimburse Moderna in the case where Moderna is condemned for damages caused by the vaccine (recital K page 3 of the agreement). The agreement also stipulates that Moderna remains the owner of the patents to the vaccine and retains full authority over its use. We can safely conclude that the Commission has agreed to the same terms with all the other vaccine manufacturers: Pfizer, BioNTech, Curevac, [17] AstraZeneca, [18] etc. This is in fact corroborated by extracts of agreements made with Curevac and AstraZeneca that have been seen in the press.

 Big Pharma practices apartheid with governments’ complicity

The big pharmaceutical corporations give priority to supplying the rich countries who can not only pay high prices for the vaccine but also make advance payments

The big pharmaceutical corporations give priority to supplying the rich countries who can not only pay high prices for the vaccines but make advance payments covering the production costs to come. This is clearly illustrated in the analysis of the distribution figures of the vaccines. Moderna has allocated 84% of its production to the US and the EU; Pfizer/BioNTech have allocated 98% and for Johnson & Johnson the equivalent figure is 79%. Pfizer/BioNTech have delivered to Sweden alone nine times more doses than it has delivered to all the low income countries put together. [19]

Mapping the vaccine doses clearly shows that a part of the world is being left out. At the time of writing (early October 2021), of the 5.76 billion doses injected only 0.3% have gone to lowest revenue countries that have a total population of 700 million people (see: Only 2.7% of the populations of the 27 lowest income countries have received a vaccine jab against over 60% in North America and Western Europe.

Source:, consulted 4 October 2021.

Of the 5.76 billion doses injected only 0.3% have gone to lowest revenue countries that have a total population of 700 million people

China and Cuba are cases apart that had the capacity to rely on their own public health services to produce their vaccines and protect their populations without having to appeal to private intermediaries. By mid-September 2021 China had fully vaccinated 70% of its population. [20]

 The complicity and culpability of the World leaders

Although the US government owns patent ‘070’ it is not making it available to the countries in need of it

The leaders of a handful of rich countries are opposed to lifting patents as requested by the Global South, particularly the European Union, Switzerland and Japan. As for the USA, President Joe Biden has said he is favourable to lifting the patents but has not taken any action towards requiring governments who are blocking the question in the WTO WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

to do so. Just as serious: although the US government is the holder of an important patent, so called the ‘070’ it is not allowing other countries to use it.

 Public authorities could easily produce billions of doses

According to Public Citizen, public authorities, starting with the governments of the richest countries could easily produce billions of doses of vaccines at a much lower cost than the payments that are being made to Big Pharma

According to Public Citizen in Washington, thanks to owning patent ‘070’ the US could and can if it wanted produce its own mRNA vaccines. It could also allow other countries to produce and use the patent to protect their own populations and in a show of humanity extend the gesture to other populations in need. See this extract from a Public Citizen press release in mid-November 2020 concerning the announcement that mRNA-1273 will be produced by Moderna: Statement: Moderna vaccine is produced by the people “This is the people’s vaccine. The NIH’s vaccine. It is not merely Moderna’s vaccine. Federal scientists helped invent it and taxpayers are funding its development. We have all played a role. It should belong to humanity.

Both the current administration and President-elect Biden have the opportunity to make this vaccine a public good that is free and available to all and help scale up global manufacturing, in order to prevent medical rationing that could become a form of global vaccine apartheid.” [21] In this case the patent would not be infringed and the technology would be generally available. In not complying with this request that comes from numerous organizations like Public Citizen, Joe Biden demonstrates his support for Big Pharma.

According to a very serious study published in May 2021 by Public Citizen, public authorities, starting with the governments of the richest countries could easily produce billions of doses of vaccines at a much lower cost than the payments that are being made to Big Pharma. The study, based on research by the Imperial College London convincingly shows that “the global community could set up regional hubs capable of producing eight billion mRNA vaccine doses by May 2022. This would be enough to cover 80% of the population”. How much would it cost? $9.4 billion for a Pfizer – BioNtech vaccine, 5 plants, 17 production lines and 1386 employees. A figure to be compared with the dozens and dozens of billions of tax dollars handed out to Big Pharma by the States resulting only in vaccinating affluent country’s populations… and paying out to shareholders. [22]

Elsewhere other vaccines have been entirely financed by public authorities. As in the case of the Sputnik 5 and Sputnik light vaccines in Russia, Sinopharm in China, the BIBP approved by the WHO in May 2021, or the Cuban Soberana 2 and Abdala Vaccines. [23]

 Thanks to the possession of patents and to governmental complicity Big Pharma is garnering undue revenues

Big Pharma has formed a cartel to charge predatory prices for their vaccines, to maintain their patents, to push prices up sharply once the pandemic reaches a new level. They seek to maximize their profits, pay as little tax as possible and have a guaranteed income for at least 20 years

The prices asked by Big Pharma for Covid vaccines are exorbitant. Two examples: according to Public Citizen estimations a Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine dose costs about $1.20 to mass produce; a Moderna vaccine dose costs $2.85 to mass produce. [24] In some countries the Pfizer/BioNTech dose is sold at $23.50 and the Moderna dose is priced as high as $37. The usual excuse for such prices is the costs of R&D and clinical trials. These arguments are not valid in the case of Covid vaccines as these costs have been financed by public authorities.

The decision by Northern governments to proceed to a third injection delights Big Pharma which sees the gestation of more fabulous profits. If the patents on vaccines, tests and drugs are not lifted or simply abolished, the big private companies that dominate the pharmaceutical sector will reap colossal revenues for the next 20 years at the expense of the population, state budgets and public health systems. The stakes are enormous because booster injections will be recommended and/or imposed. Imagine an annual injection for 20 years with a vaccine protected by a patent and therefore sold at a high price... Big Pharma shareholders may gleefully anticipate huge incomes.

Frank D’Amelio, Pfizer’s financial director has made it clear to shareholders, and fellow directors that the price of $19.50 is a seasonal promotion for the duration of the epidemic. Once the state of epidemic is over the vaccine price will be increased to a more “normal” $150/175. [25] This means a seven and a half to nine-fold increase on the prices currently paid by the US. According to Vincent Kiezebrink from the NGO SOMO, based on currently available information, if Pfizer gets its way the post-pandemic profit margin could shoot up by 1500/2000%, much more “normal” than the currently announced 52 to 58% profit margin. Moderna’s boss, Stéphane Bancel, made similar announcements in August 2020, namely that vaccine prices will substantially increase after the pandemic. [26]

In conclusion on this point: Big Pharma has formed a cartel to charge abusive prices for their vaccines, to maintain their patents, [27] to push prices sharply upwards once the pandemic stabilizes. They seek to maximize their profits, pay as little tax as possible and have a guaranteed income for at least 20 years. This behaviour is perfectly logical from a capitalist point of view, but also totally illegitimate from the point of view of the interests of 99% of the World’s population.

 Remember who the big stakeholders in Big Pharma are

It is quite clear that the only interest of these investors is to maximize their return on investment not to improve the state of health of Humanity or respond to calls for solidarity

The World’s two biggest investment funds Investment fund
Investment funds
Private equity investment funds (sometimes called ’mutual funds’ seek to invest in companies according to certain criteria; of which they most often are specialized: capital-risk, capital development funds, leveraged buy-out (LBO), which reflect the different levels of the company’s maturity.
, Vanguard and Blackrock, both American, are the main shareholders of the six biggest western Covid vaccine producers: AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer. Vanguard and Blackrock have invested respectively $66 billion and $62 billion in order to influence their policies and maximize their profits. The ten biggest shareholders control $250 billion of the stock and all are American except the “smallest” among them which is Union des Banques Suisses. [28] It is quite clear that the only interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. of these investors is to maximize their lucrative investment, not to improve the state of health of Humanity or respond to calls for solidarity. Even though their public relations spin does sometimes pretend to pay some kind of lip service to these ideals.

 The illegitimate debts taken on by the governments during the pandemic

The new accumulation of public debt serves the interests of a privileged minority, notably Big Pharma and their big shareholders, principally big investment funds. We are witnessing a new privatization of profits and socialization of losses

Governments have taken on massive amounts of new debt, particularly to acquire vaccines and vaccinate the population.

These debts are presented by governments as legitimate because they supposedly serve the general interest. But we must ask ourselves the question: are they really legitimate?

In fact, a significant proportion of the new debts are illegitimate, it was preferable and legitimate to finance the reaction to the pandemic by taxing the richest 1%, Big Pharma, GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft), etc. The richest 1% got richer during the crisis and Big Pharma and GAFAM, who globally evade taxation and refuse to release or share their patents, made windfalls from the health and the economic crises.

In short, the new accumulation of public debt serves the interests of a privileged minority, notably Big Pharma and their big shareholders, principally big investment funds.

We are witnessing a new wave of privatization of profits and socialization of losses. We must oppose this.

 Free up financial resources

There is an urgent need to free up considerable financial resources and to do so with as little new debt as possible.

The most important mine of resources is to immediately suspend repayments of public debts. The liberated means could be directly allocated to priority health needs. Other easy measures include imposing an immediate and hefty tax on big fortunes and high income brackets. Next to these necessary permanent taxes on wealth and income, an interim measure to be enforced would be a significant windfall tax on the companies that made big profits from the pandemic, especially Big Pharma. Significant fines must also be imposed on tax evasion. The extent of tax evasion has again been demonstrated in the recent Pandora Papers scandal, which follows on after the Panama Papers and Luxleaks scandals and the revelations by Gabriel Zucman. Not to mention the massive savings that could also be made in military spending... But there we digress, debt is the most powerful lever with which we may hope to rapidly improve a State’s financial situation.

What legal arguments can support a unilateral decision to suspend debt repayments or intellectual property rights on patents in this case?

Three legal arguments can support a unilateral decision to suspend debt payments or intellectual property rights on patents: state of necessity, fundamental change of circumstances and force majeure

State of Necessity: a state may suspend further debt repayment because the objective situation (for which it is not responsible) poses a serious threat to its population and continued debt payments prevent it from meeting the population’s most urgent needs. This is exactly the situation that many countries are facing: many human lives are directly threatened if they are unable to finance a series of urgent expenditures.

Necessity is a legal concept used by international tribunals and defined in Article 25 of the UN International Law Commission (ILC) Draft Articles on State Responsibility. As explained in the commentary to article 25, “state of necessity” is used to refer to those exceptional cases where the only way for a State to safeguard an essential interest threatened by a grave and imminent peril is, for the time being, by suspending an international obligation of lesser weight or urgency.

Fundamental change in circumstances: the performance of a contract (or an international treaty) may be suspended if the circumstances change fundamentally beyond the debtor’s control. The case law on the enforcement of international treaties and contracts recognizes that a fundamental change of circumstances may prevent the performance of a contract. In the case of the current crisis, the circumstances have changed fundamentally over the last two years:

  • a very serious global epidemic continues;
  • energy prices are soaring;
  • economic activity has fallen off sharply in 2020.

These arguments are perfectly valid to justify a government’s decision to override agreements on intellectual property rights, to lift patents and to organize the production of vaccines and medicines for its population.

Force majeure: The circumstances outlined above are examples of force majeure. A State may invoke such circumstances which prevent it from performing a contract.

When a State invokes Necessity, Fundamental change in circumstances or Force majeure to suspend debt repayments it is not necessary to consider whether that debt be legitimate or not. Even though a debt be perfectly legitimate repayment may be suspended. What becomes fundamental is that the population insures that the liberated resources be effectively used to relieve the epidemic, the economic crisis or the ecological crisis. This would imply that the population exercises a strict control over the action of the government, that it be mobilized and ready to strongly express dissatisfaction if the government does not act in the population’s best interest and be prepared to overthrow it if necessary.

What’s more, in the interests of the population it is fundamental that audits with the participation of the population be organized in order to identify the illegal, illegitimate and/or odious parts of the debt that should be definitively denounced. Audits of the whole of State spending is also essential to verify whether the effort called for to overcome the epidemic, the economic crisis or the ecological crisis are really justified.

Support immediate demands

It is important to support immediate demands: increased investment and public budgets for public health and community care Care Le concept de « care work » (travail de soin) fait référence à un ensemble de pratiques matérielles et psychologiques destinées à apporter une réponse concrète aux besoins des autres et d’une communauté (dont des écosystèmes). On préfère le concept de care à celui de travail « domestique » ou de « reproduction » car il intègre les dimensions émotionnelles et psychologiques (charge mentale, affection, soutien), et il ne se limite pas aux aspects « privés » et gratuit en englobant également les activités rémunérées nécessaires à la reproduction de la vie humaine. policies, including more jobs, higher wages and improved working conditions for health and community care workers. The lifting of patents on vaccines and free universal vaccination are priorities.

Support and apply radical demands

Faced with the scandal of a new wave of privatizations of profits and socialization of losses, it is essential to support radical proposals such as those made by the signatories of the "Manifesto End the System of Private Patents!

Faced with the scandal of a new wave of privatizations of profits and socialization of losses, it is essential to support radical proposals such as those made by the signatories of the “Manifesto End the System of Private Patents!” For a pharmaceutical industry under popular control and a free, universal and public vaccination system," which was launched by the CADTM global network in 2021. [29]

The manifesto notably affirms: “Good health, access to health care and to vaccinations are universal human rights. Vaccines therefore should be considered a global public good. To ensure their universal accessibility, it is necessary and urgent to suspend the patents. This measure must be accompanied by mechanisms for the nationalization of private pharmaceutical industries and a strong investment in the development of public pharmaceutical industries in all countries. Decisive action is needed to enable public planning of vaccine production and distribution, developing local production capacity where possible and complementing it with binding international solidarity in other cases.”

A close look at the situation and the deadly consequences of policies that maintain the privileges of Big Pharma can only convince us of the urgent need to expropriate the pharmaceutical sector and incorporate it into a genuine public health service under citizen control.

The private pharmaceutical industry must be expropriated and socialized under citizen control as the basis for a universal public health system that promotes the production of generic treatments and medicines

The signatories of the Manifesto advance eight principal demands:

  1. The suspension of private patents on all technologies, knowledge, treatments and vaccines related to Covid-19.
  2. The elimination of trade secrets and the publication of information on the production costs and public investments used, in a clear and publicly accessible manner.
  3. Transparency and public scrutiny at all stages of vaccine development.
  4. Universal, free and open access to vaccination and treatment.
  5. The expropriation and socialization under popular control of the private pharmaceutical industry as a basis for a universal public health system that promotes the production of generic treatments and medicines.
  6. Increased public investment and budgets for public health and community care policies, including more staff, higher salaries and improved working conditions in these sectors.
  7. The introduction of taxes on wealth (wealth and income of the richest 1%) to finance the effort against the pandemic and to ensure a socially just and ecologically sustainable exit from the various crises of global capitalism.
  8. The suspension of sovereign debt Sovereign debt Government debts or debts guaranteed by the government. payments for the duration of the pandemic and the cancellation of illegitimate debts and those contracted to finance the fight against the virus.

Debt payments should be suspended for the duration of the pandemic and illegitimate debts and debts incurred to finance the response against the virus should be cancelled

Among the signatories are Noam Chomsky and Nancy Fraser from the United States, Naomi Klein from Canada, Arundhati Roy and Tithi Bhattacharya from India, Silvia Federici and Cinzia Arruza from Italy, trade union leaders, association leaders, more than eighty parliamentarians (from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain,...) including the President of the Senate of Bolivia and 22 members of the European Parliament. [30] More than 250 organizations worldwide have also signed. [31]

Further signatures may be added through this address: manifestocovid at

 Unite struggles and demands

The struggle to defend and extend collective commons is intimately linked with the struggle against illegitimate debt, the ecological crisis, the pandemic and the capitalist system as a whole

Recently, the young people who mobilized for climate justice on 24 September 2021 gave a positive example of convergence of struggles and demands by including in the same appeal the struggles against the ecological crisis, against climate change, against anti-pandemic measures, against the debts claimed from the global South,... Here are two extracts from this appeal which deserves to be read in full:

“The same countries that are most impacted by the climate crisis are also among those most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. While the privileged of the Global North have better accessibility to resources to address the pandemic, MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas) has been systematically and systemically deprived of these resources necessary for the resolution of the health crisis. The pandemic, on top of other long-standing political and socio-economic issues, continues to devastate MAPA and makes it difficult for local communities and organizations to mobilize for climate and social justice. Inequitable vaccine distribution is also preventing many from MAPA from participating in important climate decision-making processes such as the COP26 later this year in Glasgow. As such, an integral step in pursuing global and intersectional climate action is to support the call of MAPA communities for equitable vaccine access. This includes, among other things, the suspension of intellectual property restrictions on Covid-19 vaccine technologies as these restrictions effectively limit production to Global North manufacturers and, consequently, limit MAPA access to much-needed vaccines. Other practices such as vaccine hoarding by the Global North must be stopped immediately, with excess vaccines distributed for free to MAPA with no strings attached.”

“Reparations were initially demanded by the racial justice movement, and therefore one cannot exist without the other. Climate reparations imply that those with greater responsibility for the climate crisis must pay compensation to MAPA for the damages and losses of livelihoods, infrastructure, and communities’ lives caused by the impacts of climate change. (…) canceling debt of MAPA countries, is the bare minimum that Global North countries must do in order to pay their debt for the damage and trauma caused in Global South countries.” [32]

Conclusion: The struggle to defend the commons and conquer new ones is intimately linked to the struggle against illegitimate debts, against the ecological crisis, against the authoritarian responses to the pandemic and against the capitalist system as a whole.

Acknowledgements to Christine Pagnoulle, Claude Quémar and Rémi Vilain for their advice and suggestions. Special thanks to Vincent Kiezebrink for his remarkable paper “Moderna’s free ride”, also to Public Citizen and Amnesty International for their reports on Big Pharma and access to vaccines and anti-Covid treatments. The author is entirely responsible for any errors.

Translated by Mike Krolikowski and Christine Pagnoulle


[2Financial Times, “Vaccine patent gives US ‘leverage’ over manufacturers. Washington can boost global access to Covid shots by compelling technology sharing, says top NIH scientist”, 21 Avril 2021,

[3Financial Times, same referencé as note 2.

[4NBC news, “U.S. sues Gilead, claiming it owns HIV PrEP patent”, 7 November 2019,

[5POZ, “New Twist in the Gilead Patent Lawsuit Over Truvada and Descovy to Prevent HIV” , published 7 January 2021,

[7All figures were published in the French financial daily Les Échos in November 2020, “Covid : 5 chiffres fous sur le financement des vaccins” They are corroborated and in some cases even surpassed by those quoted in Amnesty International’s report of September 2021, “ A DOUBLE DOSE OF INEQUALITY, PHARMA COMPANIES AND THE Covid-19 VACCINES CRISIS”, published on 22 September 2021,

[8Vincent Kiezebrink, “Moderna’s free ride”, published 13 July 2021, All quotations in the following lines are from this report.

[9All figures are from Vincent Kiezebrink, “Moderna’s free ride”, Other elements are from the AI report and from findings by Public Citizen.

[10Nasdaq, “Here’s Why Moderna’s Stock Could Crash Before the End of 2021”, published on 19 September 2021, Moderna’s impressive results on the stock market are leading stock market advisors to suggest that investors sell their Moderna shares in order to realize the capital gain, which could lead to a fall in the share price, especially as competitor Novavax will finally be able to sell its Covid vaccines and, as a result, speculators on the stock market are likely to set their sights on the latter company’s shares.

[12Brett Melson, “Over 225,000 New Delaware Companies Formed in 2019” | Harvard Business Services , published on 4 August 2020,

[13Stéphanie Prezioso’s interpellation at the Federal Council of the Helvetic Republic on 21 September 2021.

[14Le Courrier, “Doses de mauvaise foi”, published 23 September 2021, (in French)

[15Yago Alvarez (El Salto) “Vacunas. La ingeniería fiscal de Moderna llega a la Comisión Europea”, published 21 September 2021,

[16European Commission and Moderna Switzerland GmbH, Advance Purchase Agreement (“APA”) for the production, priority-purchasing options and supply of a successful Covid-19 vaccine for EU Member States, 2020,

[17El Salto published extracts of the agreements between the European Commission and the German Pharmaceutical company Curevac. See Yago Alvarez, “Coronavirus Los secretos tachados de los contratos de compra de vacunas de la Comisión Europea”, publié le 27 janvier 2021, (in Spanish) The extracts mentioned correspond to the conditions mentioned in the agreement with Moderna. See also

[18El Salto has also published the AstraZeneca agreement. Yago Alvarez, “Industria farmacéutica | El contrato de AstraZeneca lleva tachadas todas las cláusulas del conflicto con la Comisión Europea -”, published 29 January 2021 (in Spanish), See also

[19See the previously mentioned Amnesty International report « A DOUBLE DOSE OF INEQUALITY, PHARMA COMPANIES AND THE Covid-19 VACCINES CRISIS », published 22 September 2021,

[20Source: Our World in Data, Coronavirus (Covid-19) Vaccinations - Statistics and Research - This site is run by Oxford university

[21Public Citizen, “Statement: Moderna Vaccine Belongs to the People”, published 16 November 2020,

[22Public Citizen, “How to Make Enough Vaccine for the World in One Year”, published 26 May 2021,

[23RTBF, “Cuba : the second anti-Covid vaccine candidate is 91.2% effective after three doses”, published 9 July 2021, (in French)

[24Public Citizen, “How to Make Enough Vaccine for the World in One Year”, published 26 May 2021,

[25See this reply from Frank D’Amelio to Merill Lynch’s (a Pfizer shareholder) Eron Zemansky: “So in terms of the current margins, I always start with, we’re in a pandemic pricing environment. So the one price that we published is the price with the U.S. of $19.50 per dose. Obviously, that’s not a normal price like we typically get for a vaccine, $150, $175 per dose. So pandemic pricing. (…) Now let’s go beyond a pandemic-pricing environment, the environment we’re currently in. Obviously, we’re going to get more on price. And clearly, to your point, the more volume we put through our factories, the lower unit cost will become. So clearly, there’s a significant opportunity for those margins to improve once we get beyond the pandemic environment that we’re in.” This quote is to be found on page 19 of the official transcription of an on-line meeting that took place on 2 February 2021. Pfizer, “Edited Transcript – Q4 2020 Pfizer Inc Earnings Call,” Feb. 2021,

[26A Banerjee and C O’Donnell, “Moderna prices Covid-19 vaccine at $32-$37 per dose for smaller volume deals,” Reuters, Aug. 2020,

[27Amnesty International report previously mentioned, page 23.

[28Amnesty International report previously mentioned, pages 59-60.

[29End the System of Private Patents!

[30List of the first 360 signatures of people who support the End the Private Patent System Manifesto! #FREECOVIDPATENTS

[31List of signatory organisations: End the private patent system! For a pharmaceutical industry under popular control and a free, universal and public vaccination system

[32On September 24, we will strike to demand for intersectional climate justice! #Uproot The System See also:

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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