Yves here. Jomo Kwame Sundaram has been writing regularly on how wealthy countries are costing lives in poor nations via vaccine hoarding and refusing to give breaks on licensing. Nicholas Corbishey gave a long-form treatment yesterday on how that is playing out in Latin America, giving Russia and China the chance to play vaccine diplomacy.
John Helmer had to rouse himself to debunk the notion that it’s Russia that’s engaging in price gouging to other countries. Instead, the UK, the Gates Foundation, the US and others are trying to square the circle by letting Western Big Pharma preserve its egregious prices but subsidizing third world buys. Even so, the amounts don’t appear to be enough to meet, let alone beat, the Russian price across Africa.
By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears
When the organ claiming to be the world’s leading financial newspaper conceals the large price subsidy for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by the NATO allies, in order to accuse Russia of price gouging the poor, you can be sure you are watching an information warfare attack.
And when the concealment of the vaccine subsidy operation run by GAVI and COVAX hides the fact that the UK, US, and the Bill Gates (lead image, right) and Melinda Gates Foundation are paying 92% of the $10 billion scheme, then you realise that Covid-19 vaccines are a weapon of war.
A war, not only against Russia, but also against China.
GAVI stands for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. Originally established with $750 million from the Gates Foundation in 1999, it is based in Geneva and Washngton, DC, and directed by an epidemiologist, Seth Berkley (lead image, centre). He’s an American doctor whose previous jobs were also funded by Gates and several NATO governments, and before that by the Rockefeller Foundation.
COVAX is an acronym, created by GAVI, to stand for a multinational scheme of financing Covid-19 vaccine development in Europe and the US; then funding sale and distribution of these vaccines to low-income countries around the world. GAVI claims the scheme “is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries.” Read more of GAVI’s version here. Think of COVAX as a bank created by GAVI from money deposited by the NATO governments and either granted or loaned to client government which meet the bank’s eligibility criteria.
GAVI’s website publishes a weekly update on what it calls the “Covid-19 vaccine race”. The best known of the 11 vaccines on the GAVI list and marked as medically approved are Moderna, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson (US); AstraZeneca (UK); Pfizer (Germany); Sinovac (China); and Gamaleya’s Sputnik V (Russia). The American and British vaccines are being promoted and funded by the GAVI-COVAX scheme; the Chinese and Russian vaccines are not.
Last Thursday, on February 25, the Financial Times, a Japanese-owned, London-based, and Lebanese-edited publication, claimed the cost price of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to the poorest of African Union (AU) country members was “three times more than the price of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines, according to people familiar with the procurement process.”
The anonymous familiarity formula is a standard practice for anti-Russian fabrications by FT reporters; Bloomberg and Reuters too.
Left: the FT report
Right: Henry Foy was posted by the FT to Moscow in 2017 after being exposed in the Czech Republic for running a Polish propaganda operation; for details, click. In Moscow Foy propagandizes for Anglo-Russian financial interests and for the plans of the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office's section known as the Cunter Disinformation & Media Development (CDMD); for more, read this.
The newspaper report claimed: “The $9.75 price per dose for 300m shots of the Russian vaccine, developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute, undermines Moscow’s argument that it is offering affordable jabs to countries priced out of deals with western pharmaceutical groups. The deals struck by the AU [African Union], which is emerging as one of the world’s biggest vaccine buyers, provide a rare insight into how jab prices compare, a subject manufacturers have sought to keep out of the spotlight. ‘Africa is a key market for Sputnik V,’ said the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a Kremlin-run wealth fund overseeing Sputnik V’s foreign sales. ‘Our international price of just under $10 per dose is the same for all markets.’ Sputnik V recipients require two doses, meaning the cost per individual is just under $20.”
The FT report added: “the price of the Russian vaccine, which will not start arriving in Africa until May, compares with the $3 a dose the AU has agreed for the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Novavax jabs made by the Serum Institute of India, according to the people familiar with AU procurement. The AU will pay $ 6.75 a dose for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and $10 for Johnson & Johnson’s, a single-dose product. It is not purchasing any of Moderna’s two-shot inoculation, priced at $32 to $37 per dose.”
There is no mention of the GAVI-COVAX vaccine subsidy scheme by the FT reporters. Four of Berkley’s spokesmen in Geneva were asked to clarify whether the vaccine prices quoted by the newspaper were subsidised by loan or grant money from GAVI.
These questions were put by email to the press agents working for Berkley in Geneva:
- How do you set target acquisition/resale prices for vaccines in countries with low-income populations?
- What is the pricing scheme your institution and the GAVI/COVAX/AMC system use — at what price do you procure from the vaccine originator or its producer? At what price do you then sell the vaccine to target low-income countries?
- How is the difference between procurement price and wholesale/retail distribution price calculated and financed?
The GAVI officials had just issued a detailed tabulation of the countries undertaking to receive the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines over the next several months. The biggest consumers of AstraZeneca on this list so far are Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo (DRC), and Mexico. For Pfizer, the dose numbers remain small; the recipients are led by Ukraine, South Africa, Colombia, Philippines, and Peru.
These are the four GAVI spokesmen in Geneva:
They refuse to say how much money is being paid by GAVI’s contributors to subsidise the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccine sales to African governments.
They are also reluctant to answer the question emailed to them: “What funds are contributed to the COVAX Facility/AMC for Covid-19 vaccine distribution by these sources?” AMC in GAVI jargon stands for “COVID-19 Vaccines Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC). [It is] the first building block of the COVAX Facility. The Gavi COVAX AMC is the innovative financing instrument that will support the participation of 92 low- and middle-income economies in the COVAX Facility – enabling access to donor-funded doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. The AMC, combined with additional support for country readiness and delivery, will make sure the most vulnerable in all countries can be protected in the short term, regardless of income level.”
What exactly is this “financial instrument”?
According to Berkley’s explanation, “doses for lower-income economies will also be procured through the COVAX Facility but will be paid for via the separate financial mechanism of the COVAX AMC, which will be largely funded through Official Development Assistance (ODA), as well as contributions from the private sector and philanthropy. Even so, it is likely that the 92 ODA-eligible countries accessing vaccines through the COVAX AMC may also be required to share some of the costs of COVID-19 vaccines and delivery. Through this cost-sharing approach, countries will have an opportunity to complement and build on the essential foundation built by these early, donor funded doses if they wish to achieve a higher population coverage.”
Berkley and his spokesmen don’t say exactly whence the money comes which they term “Official Development Assistance (ODA), as well as contributions from the private sector and philanthropy.” Instead, the GAVI website presents this picture-book outline of how the cash flows.
However, in the small print of GAVI’s tabulation of its funding sources, it is clear that for pledges and contributions through September 30, 2020, the UK leads with 23%; the Gates Foundation comes next with 17%; and the US follows at 15%. The total shown at the bottom of the table is $10.2 billion.
WHERE GAVI’S MONEY COMES FROM
A separate tabulation of cash received by September 30, 2020, shows a similar picture except that the money donated by the Gates Foundation exceeds the British Government’s contribution and is almost double the US funding. These figures are for the period 2015-2020; for the Covid-19 financing called COVAX AMC the published numbers are very small, and were led by Japan and Kuwait.
It is only by examining GAVI’s country “donor profiles” is it possible to identify the sources of the cash which has so far gone into the COVAX AMC bank for subsidising Covid-19 vaccine distribution around the world. According to this search, the UK leads with $706 million; in other words, the British state budget is subsidising African purchasing of the British vaccine AstraZeneca; GAVI is its intermediary.
Next in cash contribution to this banking operation is Canada with $190 million, followed by the Gates Foundation at $156 million; Saudi Arabia, $153 million; Japan, $130 million; the European Commission, $117 million; Germany, $88 million, and Australia, $58 million. On German direction, EC financing for the Pfizer vaccine includes a loan guarantee through the European Investment Bank of $468 million. Adding up the numbers the AstraZeneca subsidy of $706 million is just ahead of the Pfizer subsidy of $673 million. Subtract that money, and the price of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines in Africa would be significantly greater – so much greater, in fact, that it would erase the apparent price advantage reported by the FT.
The comparative advantage swings over to Sputnik V, however, when the number of doses financed by GAVI-COVAX is compared to the total doses the African states require to safeguard their people. According to expert estimates, the NATO subsidy through COVAX is covering less than half the African need; possibly as little as 20%. To supply the remainder, Pfizer is on record as demanding a price that is much higher than that of Sputnik V, or the Chinse vaccine alternatives.
The GAVI numbers show clearly how the NATO governments are subsidising the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines. Neither Russia nor China, which have been donors to GAVI programs in the past, are providing money for the NATO operation this time. On September 17 last year, the Russian Government announced it would not participate in the GAVI-COVAX scheme. “It’s nothing but another NATO-type Marshall Plan, this time in the medical sphere”, commented one of the sources.
On Monday, the British Ambassador to the UN, Dame Barbara Woodward, pretended that the GAVI-COVAX scheme was politically and commercially neutral. She announced it “is important for Russia to cooperate with COVAX in the context of the overall work with the coronavirus pandemic.” She also implied that if Russia paid into the scheme, the UK regulatory authorities would be more inclined to approve Sputnik V for introduction into the UK.
In fact, according to Russian sources interviewed in Moscow this week, it is clear that the GAVI-COVAX operation is aimed at boosting the AstraZenca and Pfizer vaccines over Sputnik V for political and commercial gain. The Russians are therefore negotiating their vaccine sales bilaterally; if there is price discounting or other concessions, the terms remain secret; the reporters of the Financial Times don’t know them.
Asked this week to clarify the terms their governments have been negotiating with Moscow to obtain the Sputnik V vaccine, Moscow embassy officials for South Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique and Algeria, refuse to say.
The official website for Sputnik V, written by the vaccine developer Gamaleya and the state investor in the project, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has employed a London public relations company to issue press releases. It has announced that “RDIF continues expanding existing agreements with international manufacturing partners to produce the vaccine for more than 500 million people in 2021 The cost of one dose of the Sputnik V vaccine for international markets will be less than $10. Sputnik V is a two dose vaccine. Therefore, Sputnik V will be two or more times cheaper than mRNA vaccines with similar efficacy levels. Vaccination with Sputnik V will be free of charge for Russian citizens.”
The mRNA (messenger ribonucleuc acid ) vaccines operate with genetic modification technology which is controversial because its long-term effects are unknown and untested. The leading mRNA vaccines competing against Sputnik V are Pfizer and Moderna.
COVID-19 VACCINE TECHNOLOGIES
Because the source is Australian, it is hostile to both the Russian and Chinese vaccines, and omits to mention them. Sputnik V is of the viral vector type; the Chinese Sinovac vaccine is of the dead virus type. For a discussion of the genomic engineering technologies in development in Russia, read this.
A RDIF spokesman refused to discuss price discounting and would not comment on the London newspaper claims. He also declined to comment on the GAVI-COVAX subsidy scheme.
R-Pharm, one of Russia’s leading pharmaceutical producers, acknowledged that it is involved in the distribution of Sputnik V domestically and also for export. A company source said the export price for Sputnik V is “about $10, not more”. He added the COVAX operation is “outside our sphere”.
Last week, in an official announcement from the federal Health Ministry and Ministry of Industry and Trade, for those in Russia who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated free of charge, the maximum commercial price for the two-dose Sputnik V inside the country will be Rb866.81 ($11.71). This was a sharp reduction from Rb1,942 announced by the Health Ministry in early December.