NICOLA Sturgeon is being urged to work with other devolved leaders to tackle what campaigners have described as “pandemic profiteering” to help poorer countries gain access to Covid-19 vaccine technology.

More than $36.7 billion (£27bn) was generated by sales of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine alone last year – at least eight times the combined government health spending of Pakistan, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia, the partner countries for Scotland’s International Development Fund.

Between them they spend just $4.2bn (£3.1bn) a year on healthcare.

Pfizer’s main revenue driver is the vaccine that was first developed by smaller German company BioNTech with €100 million (£84.2m) in debt financing from the publicly-owned European Investment Bank and a grant of €375m (£316m) from the German government. Pfizer also received a $1.9bn (£1.39bn) early order from the US government to de-risk its research and development.

Interactive map: Where are Scotland's Covid cases today?

In December, Sturgeon, below, called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to support temporarily waiving the intellectual property rights for coronavirus jabs, as lower-income countries have been demanding for more than a year.

The National: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during her visit to Scottish Opera to meet staff at the company's production studios in Glasgow and sit in on rehearsals for an upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, to mark the return of live indoor

Only the UK, EU and Switzerland are blocking the proposal at the World Trade Organisation, that would enable low and middle-income countries to manufacture their own vaccines and increase global supplies.

Global Justice Now Scotland said it wanted Sturgeon to work with other devolved leaders to prove that the UK Government does not have the consent of the UK’s component parts to prevent more equitable access to the vaccines.

Campaigners said it could also tackle Pfizer’s “ripping off” public health systems with an “eye-watering” 299% mark-up on its vaccines. They said the UK had paid £3.76bn to Pfizer for 189 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, including booster shots, £2.82bn above production cost, “according to conservative estimates”. The chemicals giant said a non-profit dose of its vaccine costs just $6.75 (£4.98) to produce, but it has been widely reportedly to have charged the NHS £18 a dose for the first 100 million, and £22 per dose for the next 89 million – a total of £3.76bn.

However, the campaigners said expert estimates suggested the true cost price could be as low as 76p per dose. At £4.98 per dose, they said the 189 million sold to the NHS will have cost Pfizer £941.2m to produce, meaning it had charged the NHS a £2.8bn mark-up.

Exact figures, though, are almost impossible to find because of secrecy arrangements covering manufacture and supply agreements.

Liz Murray, from Global Justice Now Scotland, told The Sunday National: “The First Minister was right to condemn Boris Johnson’s reckless approach to global Covid-19 vaccine access. But as pharmaceutical giants announce record revenues from publicly-funded vaccines, we need Nicola Sturgeon to demand vaccine justice for Scotland’s international partners.

“Right now, in Pakistan, Zambia, Malawi and Rwanda, people are dying from preventable illness because companies like Pfizer have jealously guarded their vaccine technology, preventing those who need them most from getting access.

“In doing so, they’ve made vaccine revenues that are eight times more than Scotland’s aid partners’ total combined health spending. It’s a sickening illustration of global health inequality.

“Big pharmaceutical companies have gouged more than enough money from public health systems at home and abroad, but Johnson is protecting their profits. We need the First Minister to work with other devolved leaders to say no – the UK does not sacrifice lives for profits in our name.”

The Scottish Government announced last week it was giving £1.5m to the United Nations children’s organisation Unicef to support equitable access to Covid-19 vaccinations and therapeutics in Rwanda, Zambia and Malawi. This will support Covid vaccination programmes and strengthen their health systems through the provision of equipment, resources and technical support in response to the pandemic.

An identified priority is the delivery of at least 6.5 million vaccine syringes in Rwanda, to ensure that sufficient vaccination equipment is available so that doses arriving can be utilised as quickly as possible.

Unicef will also try to build confidence and acceptance of the Covid vaccines at community level in Malawi and Zambia, which could reach 10m people.

Antoinette Eleonore Ba, Unicef health specialist for eastern and southern Africa, said: “Countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have made great strides in tackling the pandemic, but there is still much more work to be done ... Scottish Government funding will provide valuable support for Unicef’s response in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia.”

The Welsh Government has invested almost £3m in response and adaptation projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, but said it wanted to do more.

A spokesperson told us: “The First Minister has written to the UK Government asking for further assistance in terms of donated vaccines to developing countries and to support the temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for patented vaccines, to ensure all countries are in a position to protect their populations and overcome the effects of the virus.”

The Scottish Government said it recognised the unprecedented global nature of the pandemic and although the country was not a member of the worldwide Covax scheme, it will continue engaging with the UK Government on that and “would also welcome discussions with the other devolved governments”.

“Minister for International Development Neil Gray today said in Parliament that it is an early priority for him to continue to engage with international partners to see what more support can be provided on vaccine equity, building on the First Minister’s leadership on a TRIPs waiver,” said a spokesperson.

“On December 8, the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister to urge the UK Government to end its opposition at the World Trade Organisation and to join over 100 countries who are now supportive of a temporary Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights waiver.

“The Scottish Government has also provided international development support to our partner countries to support their Covid-19 responses, including vaccine preparedness – and today we have announced that Unicef is to receive £1.5m to support Covid-19 vaccination programmes and strengthening of the health systems in Rwanda, Zambia and Malawi.

“This partnership with Unicef allows us to support our African partner country governments in their Covid-19 response, and will go some way to addressing vaccine inequity in Africa, and reinforces our commitment to global equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.”

In a lengthy statement, Pfizer told The Sunday National it was committed to equitable and affordable access to its vaccine to help bring an end to the pandemic and said it had been transparent about the tiered pricing structure for high, middle, and lower-middle income countries.

“High and middle-income countries pay more than low-income countries, but at a value that is significantly discounted from our normal benchmarks, during the pandemic. Low- and lower-middle-income countries pay a not-for-profit price,” said a spokesperson.

“We are aware of various cost and pricing estimates that have been quoted by third parties and would reiterate that manufacturing costs and UK prices have not been publicly disclosed. We are unable to comment on the specifics of confidential supply agreements.

“However, we would highlight that the true costs of bringing this novel mRNA vaccine to patients include ongoing large scale clinical studies and pharmacovigilance, continued and increased manufacturing efforts including process improvements, and global distribution and supply.”

It said that given the urgency of the pandemic, the company had self-funded more than $2bn (£1.4bn) “at-risk” to undertake clinical development and manufacturing processes in parallel and at scale.

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“We received no public funding, meaning if the vaccine did not work, Pfizer would have borne the cost. This decision was made so we could move as quickly as possible and with the scale required to play a meaningful role in vaccinating the world.”

In addition to the “at-risk” investment, in 2020, they said Pfizer had authorised spending a further $600m (£440m) on Covid-19 research and development last year, bringing its total R&D investment in 2021 to around $10.5bn (£7.7bn).

The company added: “It is not as simple as sharing the ‘recipe’. Manufacturing of the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine involves the use of over 280 materials. There is enormous collaboration already taking place.

“IP protections have been essential not only to speed up the research and development of new treatments and vaccines, but also to facilitate sharing of technology and information to scale up vaccine manufacturing to meet the unprecedented global needs.”