Medical campaigners have urged vaccine manufacturers in the UK and France to be transparent with the costs of producing a successful COVID-19 vaccine to prove they are not profiting from it.

According to Reuters, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, has asked France’s Sanofi and the UK’s GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to show their costings, as both firms have recently revealed they will supply 200 million doses of the vaccine to a global facility backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

MSF has voiced concerns that the pharmaceutical firms could not be trusted to be voluntarily up-front about manufacturing costs nor to sell it at cost.

The vaccine produced by Sanofi and GSK is one of at least seven that the UK Government has bought – officials confirmed in July that they had ordered 60million doses.  

The vaccine is based on the existing technology used to produce Sanofi’s seasonal flu jab. Genetic material from the surface protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is inserted into insect cells, the basis of Sanofi’s influenza product, before being injected into a person to provoke an immune response.

Doctors Without Borders’s Kate Elder said: “Pharmaceutical corporations Sanofi and GSK must sell their vaccines at-cost and open their books to show the public exactly how much it costs to make the vaccine.

“There is no room for secrets during a pandemic and past experience tells us that we can’t take pharma at their word without data to back up their claims.”

MSF say that none of the companies manufacturing vaccines has shared information research and development, clinical trials or manufacturing costs of potential COVID-19 vaccines, but it would be vital and necessary when the time comes for countries to start buying the vaccines, should the trials prove them to be successful.

There are concerns that wealthy countries like the UK, US, France and Germany could buy up huge amounts of vaccine stocks and leave poorer countries less able to afford them.

There will be a huge global demand for the coronavirus jab when one is ready and has been proved to be successful, and any company that charges more than the cost price for its vaccine could make a substantial profit.

More than half of the expected volume of doses of the best candidates so far has been bought up by just 13 per cent of the world, mainly high-income countries, the MSF said.

Sanofi and GSK issued a joint statement on 29 October, which said: “We are committed to working with governments, partners, and payers to ensure that when new vaccines are approved, they will be available and affordable for people at a fair and reasonable price.”

The statement went on to add there will be a tiered pricing structure for the vaccine, and lower-income countries are intended to pay significantly lower prices for the vaccine than higher-income countries.

In a separate report, Human Rights Watch said governments funding vaccines with public money need to be transparent about terms and conditions attached.

The New York-based group urged states to back a proposal by India and South Africa to wave some aspects of intellectual property (IP) rules on patents to enable large-scale manufacturing and affordability.

A temporary IP waiver was debated this month in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) but was opposed by the United States, European Union, Britain, Switzerland and others.

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