Grotesque Profits In The Time Of COVID
Down To Earth|September 01, 2021
Vaccine equity goes for a toss as US recommends booster shots, while Pfizer and Moderna revenues soar by billions of dollars

THE PANDEMIC has made us obsessive about figures. The number of covid-19 cases; the grim statistics on fatalities; and the progress of the deadly virus across regions, states, districts and villages have all been of frightening fascination since early 2020. As every new wave of the pandemic hit different parts of the world, the figures have had a way of overwhelming individual tragedies. The numbers were always too big, not least in India.

But in the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years, where the tragedy of lost lives and economic ruin still deepens, come a set of figures that can only be described as grotesque: the revenues accrued by the leading developers of a new kind of vaccine to fight the virus. The top earners are Pfizer and Moderna, whose revenues have rocketed in the first half of this year with their messenger RNA or MRNA vaccines that were produced in record time and have turned the vaccine business on its head. Market caps of even relatively unknown companies with covid-19 vaccines have zoomed, as have their revenues and profits. As for the marquee names, it has been a dream run that is unlikely to end any time soon. In July, Pfizer raised its forecast of sales for the year by 30 per cent to US $33.5 billion. That has turned out to be an extremely conservative estimate; that figure was surpassed in the first half of this year itself with the company reporting overall revenues of $33.6 billion, a 68 per cent jump over the tally for the same period last year.

The case of Mode RNA is more spectacular. It had no approved product in its portfolio before the pandemic struck. Now its market cap is an astronomical $149.7 billion, pushing a number of Big Pharma companies into a black hole. For the first half of this year, Moderna’s total revenue zoomed to $6.3 billion from just $75 million in the corresponding period of 2020.

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