Johnson & Johnson held its virtual shareholder meeting today – the first shareholder meeting of a company with a candidate product since the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.
J&J has made headlines recently with its announcement that it intends to sell its COVID-19 candidate vaccine for $10 or 10 euros a dose and that the product could be ready by early 2021. Activists are calling for a major paradigm shift to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 health technologies, and J&J’s actions are already triggering outrage.
Activists are harshly critiquing J&J’s framework for “non-profit” pricing and plan to scale-up single-source supply should its COVID-19 vaccine candidate prove effective.
If J&J’s vaccine candidate proves effective at preventing COVID-19, it must be manufactured quickly by all qualified producers in order to achieve the scale needed to reach all people around the world and priced at a true “non-profit” pricepoint that will not relegate poor people around the world to the back of the line. This surge capacity for non-exclusive manufacturing must be hardwired into J&J’s plans now, even as vaccine research is ongoing. Multi-source manufacturing would help tackle deadly scarcity that will inevitably condemn the most impoverished countries to great harm.
COVID-19 will continue to be a global crisis if we accept scarcity and mass death as a precondition for protecting corporate profits on vaccines developed with significant public investment.
Shareholders, policymakers, and the general public should not accept scarcity as a predetermined condition, nor price gouging. J&J – and other pharmaceutical and medical technology companies – must agree to voluntarily pool their COVID-19 intellectual property and data rights into a COVID-19 Technology Pool like the one called for by Costa Rica. Pooling intellectual property rights to lifesaving breakthroughs including vaccines would allow all available global manufacturing capacity to speed supplies to people around the world. Should they refuse, governments must commit to non-voluntary pooling.
J&J has an opportunity to be a leader by voluntarily releasing its monopoly on its COVID-19 vaccine candidate now so that investors and people around the world are assured that the full force of global manufacturing can be leveraged should its candidate vaccine prove effective. That is the kind of action a company would take if it is truly interested in saving as many lives as possible.