The pandemic of billionaires
The fact that Corona has made the poor poorer and the rich richer is now also a clear recognition in the media mainstream. The lockdowns caused by the pandemic have been used by so-called “markets” and neoliberal governments to undermine the purchasing power of hundreds of millions of workers worldwide. At the same time, however, on the opposite side, the concentration of income and property has been catapulted to a never - before-seen level, which, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index, totaled a staggering $ 1.8 trillion in early 2021. In other words, in the coronapandemic year, the billionaires increased their wealth by 31 percent. Not only Tesla guru Elon Musk or Amazon owner Jeff Bezos-who gained $ 23.6 billion in less than 10 months – but also unassuming representatives of the commodity-exporting comprador bourgeoisie in peripheral countries such as Chile, where the fortune of the Luksic family clan increased by $ 12.5 billion and reached $ 23.3 billion in the same period.
But it gets really exciting when reading the house messages of the German company BioNTech, manufacturer of the Covid-19 vaccine, known as"Pfizer vaccine". Founded in 2008 in Mainz by the Turkish immigrant couple Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, the company went public on the New York Nasdaq stock Exchange.At the beginning of 2021, it already recorded a 230 percent increase in the value of its shares and increased its market value by almost 27 billion US dollars. According to multiple reports by German media, Sahin and Türeci are already among the 100 richest Germans with a fortune of nearly 5 billion US dollars.
But BioNTech hides more than a"guest worker" success story. In the background – more precisely: at Lake Tegernsee – the silent co-earners congratulate themselves, who raised the actual starting capital of BioNTech in the amount of 150 million euros: the twin brothers Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann, who previously earned billions with the production of generic drugs.
For years with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, founded by German immigrants in the USA, in joint venture deals, both companies triggered a sharp, but until a few weeks ago secretive dispute with the EU at the end of 2020, when the vaccine duo tried to coerce the EU governments with an outrageous price demand for the Comirnaty (BNT162b2) vaccine. In Argentina, however, Pfizer’s claim to so-called “guarantees” for the delivery of several million doses of the BioNTech vaccine was described as a surreal, if not infamous demand. A case without precedent, against the backdrop of the $ 324 billion foreign debt mountain left behind by President Alberto Fernández’s predecessor Mauricio Macri and tough debt restructuring negotiations with international creditors-including the world’s largest fund manager and Pfizer shareholder BlackRock-Pfizer demanded the adoption of a guarantee waiver “for non – enforceable assets,” including domestic cash reserves and glaciers as water reserves. The Group’s performance caused a scandal in Argentina at the end of 2020, which was apparently quickly de-escalated by the Group and the media because of the health policy spark with dramatically increasing corona case numbers.
Pfizer / BioNTech also had problems in Brazil. According to the two companies, the Brazilian government had been offered around 70 million cans with a delivery deadline of December 2020 in August 2020. Jair Bolsonaro’s former Minister of Health, General Eduardo Pazzuelo, replied that in reality only 9 million cans with a delivery deadline in January 2021 had been promised. On the one hand, while concerned about the signing of multibillion-dollar supply contracts, on the other hand, Pfizer/BioNTech’s ability to deliver in March 2021 was limited to a ridiculous 1.6 percent of contracts with the region; a situation that, coupled with China’s also sluggish supply of vaccine ingredients for on-site production, prompted countries such as Argentina to increasingly rely on the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. The only country whose pre-paid orders Pfizer/BioNTech seems to comply with is Chile, with the previous delivery of 1.88 million cans.
The BioNTech, aka “Pfizer vaccine”
For months there has been talk in the world’s leading media, especially in the US and the media influenced by them, of the COVID-19"Pfizer vaccine" and its apparently higher effectiveness compared to half a dozen international competing vaccines. Following a scientific recommendation by the European Medicines Agency EMA and subsequent approval by the Member States, the European Commission granted this vaccine its first European approval shortly before Christmas 2020. The EMA recommendation was based on a supposedly “thorough assessment of the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine”.
In fact, as the Bloomberg news agency warned back in November 2020, it is not a miracle cure from Pfizer, but a research product from the German BioNTech laboratory, with a grant of 375 million euros from the German federal government. One of the circumstances cited by Bloomberg (“The truth is…") is that Pfizer had not received funding for the development, clinical testing and manufacturing of the vaccine from Donald Trump’s administration’s roughly $ 2 billion” Operation Warp Speed " for Covid-19 vaccine research.
The result was a literal double jump in the Pfizer / BioNTech deal. On the one hand, Pfizer jumped on the bandwagon of its long-standing business partner BioNTech, and on the other hand, the Angela Merkel government lobbied for the securing of a German vaccine, but also for the business interests of the US pharmaceutical giant, which has an ethically more than controversial business history. Since then, the" Pfizer vaccine " has been making headlines, not just enticing. After months of testing with thousands of test subjects, Pfizer/BioNTech succeeded in selling nearly 60 million individual doses of the BNT162b1 vaccine to Latin American governments, most notably Argentina and Brazil, by December 2020. But weeks later, in January 2021, the vaccines were already missing throughout Europe, for which Pfizer/BioNTech and the British-Swedish group AstraZeneca had contractually committed themselves to the EU.
This was preceded by dubious to sinister negotiations with the German and Argentine governments from June to December 2020.
BioNTech/Pfizer’s crooked business attempt with the EU: 54.08 euros should cost the dose of vaccine, yet billions profit
In February 2021, individual German media were given access to the highly confidential offer document of June 2020, which both companies submitted to the EU. Wordy, it explains how serious the economic damage caused by the pandemic is, “every day costs the EU 3.8 billion euros, a whopping 1.4 trillion euros a year. Only a vaccine is the way out of this emergency.” If the billions and billions that the pandemic caused in damage were transferred into a “traditional cost-effectiveness model”, a price for a dose of vaccine would be “inappropriate during a global pandemic”, the Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted from the paper. “After this preliminary speech, “the newspaper continued,” Pfizer/BioNTech therefore made a supposedly generous offer: in bold letters, the two companies offered the EU their vaccine at the price of 54.08 euros per dose, with a decrease of 500 million doses. In total, Pfizer/BioNTech wanted 27 billion euros for so much vaccine that just over half of the EU population would have to be vaccinated.”
But the German government and the EU were astonished:“At 54.08 euros, the BioNTech vaccine would be more than twenty times as expensive as a dose of the vaccine that AstraZeneca developed together with the University of Oxford.” And: Perhaps the exaggerated, if not outrageous, price ideas have also shed a new light on the reluctance of some EU countries in the summer towards the BioNTech vaccine, commented the Münchner Abendzeitung. The final price is still kept secret, but according to information from NDR, WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung, it is supposed to have been reduced to 15.50 euros per dose and a contract between the EU and Pfizer/BioNTech was only signed in November 2020. The USA had already signed a contract with Pfizer in July, which secured them 100 million doses at around 16 euros per single dose and at a total price of 1.95 billion dollars.
Pfizer and BioNTech did not impose any obligations on the US government, which was mega-indebted with 28 trillion US dollars. In a different way, or rather with a cheeky colonial pose, the group duo tried to blackmail the government of Alberto Fernández outright.
Vaccine delivery against glaciers, military bases and fishing rights
Jorge Rachid, an Argentine paramedic and consultant to the Buenos Aires provincial government, assured that Pfizer had demanded the adoption of a so-called “guarantee law” from the government of Alberto Fernández in exchange for the delivery of the vaccine. “Pfizer demanded a law with guarantees for non-enforceable assets, including oil and glaciers,” Rachid told astonished reporters and listeners of the LT8 radio station in Buenos Aires at the end of December 2020. Referring to the government that replaced Mauricio Macri at the end of 2019, the doctor protested, “after a government like the one we had, multinational companies are now coming along and behaving as if Argentina were a colony. Argentina cannot allow this.”
Health Minister Ginés González García also complained to the Health Commission of the Argentine Chamber of Deputies that Pfizer had behaved “very badly"towards Argentina during the negotiations on the provision of vaccines. González García rightly pointed out that in July 2020 Argentina had authorised Pfizer to conduct a phase 3 study with 6,000 volunteers, free facilities and personnel in the country, and that the regulatory authority approved the use of the vaccine developed by the German company BioNTech. The contract negotiations had begun in September. However, Argentina had passed a law with certain regulatory conditions for non-compliance with payment and delivery conditions, of which Pfizer rejected certain clauses; a stance that, according to the minister, had revealed “enormous intolerance”. Finally, President Fernández called for a renegotiation. He also complained that “Pfizer makes too many conditions that have never been put forward by other suppliers”.
When medical doctor Rachid, who serves as a health policy advisor to the state government under former Economy Minister Axel Kiciloff, brought Pfizer’s scandalous deal attempt to the media, he apparently acted as an unofficial mouthpiece of the Argentine federal government. She did not want to keep behind the mountain with her outrage at the extent of the blackmail attempt. Pfizer initially demanded that Argentina take out international insurance to cover “potential future lawsuits” against the Group. Argentina agreed. However, in December 2020 Pfizer raised new claims, namely collateral in the form of government assets. In plain language, Pfizer demanded the Argentine bank reserves, its military bases and its embassy buildings abroad; even the Patagonian glaciers and fishing rights came into play. In other words, Argentina should put its sovereignty at risk against vaccine deliveries.
Was Pfizer instigated to do so by the shareholder and Argentina creditor BlackRock? In the run-up to the debt rescheduling agreement of August 2020, the New York fund administrator had threatened Argentina with international lawsuits with a dozen international creditors. And now the point: Is it a coincidence that Pfizer shareholder BlackRock is intensely involved in fishing and water business?
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