COVID-19: Why India is Pfizer's shot at redemption

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi, India Published: May 05, 2021, 10:45 PM(IST)

Pfizer vaccine Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Pfizer is watching India closely. They recently donated medicines worth $70 million to India. It is being called Pfizer's largest humanitarian effort in history, and the company is in talks with the Indian government to seek speedy approval of vaccines

When new inventions emerge, divides within society become more apparent. For instance, the television or the cell phone was owned only by a select few. The same thing is now happening with vaccines.

In the United States, if you received a single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re a one-doser. If you received Moderna, you part of the middle class. And if you got the Pfizer shots, you are the real deal - a double-dosed Pfizer elite, as evident on social media. In memes across social media, Pfizer is made to look like the rich man's jab. One user called it decadent and luxurious. Of course, this is all hogwash. The best vaccine is the vaccine you get.

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How did Pfizer build this brand?

Pfizer is a pharmaceutical veteran and the company was founded way back in 1849. Almost a century later, they had their biggest breakthrough. They successfully mass-produced penicillin. Today, they are among the leading pharmaceutical  giants in the world. Last year, they reported $9.6 billion in profits, way before the vaccine rollout.

Pfizer's first quarter report logged $3.5 billion in revenue. Nearly a quarter of all revenue came from the jabs. Pfizer didn't actually publish profit data, but said that it would be in the high 20 per cent range, around $900 million in three months pre-tax.

Also read: Canada becomes first country to authorise Pfizer Covid vaccine for kids age 12 and up

So Pfizer is saving lives and getting rich doing it. But who is Pfizer selling to? Apparently, the world's rich. They are planning to produce 2.5 billion doses this year out of which only 40 million will go to Covax, just 2 per cent of their total output. In contrast, the much smaller Moderna are giving 500 million.

Pfizer is earning money by selling to the rich and by signing opaque deals with different price tags in each country. Some reports say the US is paying $19.5 per dose while Israel is paying $30.

What about India?

Pfizer is watching India closely. They recently donated medicines worth $70 million to India. It is being called Pfizer's largest humanitarian effort in history, and the company is in talks with the Indian government to seek speedy approval of vaccines.

Pfizer was the first to seek emergency approval for its vaccine in India last year. But in February, they pulled out. India wanted a small local safety trial but Pfizer was unwilling.

During the ongoing second wave, India continues to face vaccine shortages so regulations were relaxed. All foreign jabs approved by major regulators were fast-tracked with one condition: They had to organise a domestic trial within 30 days of approval.

Also read: Pfizer raises 2021 sales forecast for Covid vaccines to $26 billion

A Pfizer spokesperson was asked whether the company had sought a waiver for domestic trials. She replied that Pfizer's application was backed by overseas trial data and added that the jab was already endorsed by all major regulators.

Assuming the jab is cleared, two worries still remain - cost and storage. Pfizer has promised to deliver its vaccine at low cost to India. Pfizer jabs are stored at minus 70 degree celsius and India does not have the infrastructure for this.

The company says they could deliver the shots in specially designed containers right to the vaccination centres. And the shelf life of Pfizer vaccines can be extended by days through dry ice. So if and when the Pfizer jabs arrive, they will have to fly off the shelves. It would be much easier if Pfizer shared their formulas with Indian producers but they are big on patents.

Pfizer successfully mass-produced penicillin during World War 2. Thousands of allied soldiers lived because of Pfizer. Today, that same company is making millions from a crisis and India is Pfizer's shot at redemption.

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