Activists thrown out of Pharma Awards Europe Ceremony, having stormed stage to demand end to pandemic profiteering

Footage and images of the protest can be found here and on Twitter.

Campaigners disrupted a pharmaceutical awards ceremony in London today, lambasting the industry for its profiteering during Covid-19 and demanding an end to pharma monopolies.

Activists from Just Treatment, Global Justice Now and STOPAIDS were ejected from the awards ceremony after disrupting a champagne lunch and holding up a banner reading ‘PHARMA GREED KILLS’ on stage.

The Pharma Awards Europe is an annual ceremony attended by executives and representatives of the largest pharmaceutical companies including Moderna, Novartis, Janssen and others.

Activists are demanding that pharmaceutical companies put lives ahead of profits and end the industry’s pandemic profiteering by sharing crucial technology and manufacturing know-how for life-saving medicines.

The action follows a substantial investigation from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) and Politico, which details Big Pharma’s aggressive lobbying of governments against an international temporary intellectual property waiver (TRIPS waiver) on COVID vaccines earlier this year.

The TRIPS waiver would have reduced the legal barriers for low- and middle-income countries to manufacture their own life-saving vaccines. The BIJ and Politico’s investigation reports that some governments were threatened by pharmaceutical lobbyists that major companies would reconsider their investments if their country backed the waiver proposal.

Emma Hughes, Head of Campaigns at Just Treatment, who took part in the action said:

“Pharmaceutical executives must be confronted with the truth: their greed is killing people. 

No company should hold monopolies and be able to increase prices as they feel during a global health emergency. While making record profit, they’ve used their direct access to political leaders to crush international efforts to address inequitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments.

It’s disgusting that they present awards to each other titled ‘Driving Health Equity’ while their actions hold back equitable access to medicines for the world’s poorest.”

Less than 24% of people in low-income countries have received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Despite research showing that there are over 100 sites in Africa, Asia and Latin America that could manufacture mRNA vaccines if big pharma shared their vaccine recipes and know-how, big pharma has consistently acted to protect its monopolies.

The death toll from COVID-19 has been four times higher in low-income countries than rich ones, and more than 1 million lives could have been saved if COVID-19 vaccines were shared more equitably with low-income countries in 2021. Meanwhile, Pfizer and Moderna are expected to make $34 billion and $19 billion respectively this year from COVID vaccine sales alone. With today’s Autumn Statement detailing renewed austerity measures, taxpayers and patients are concerned that continued pharmaceutical company profiteering will mean further pressures on NHS spending; in 2021 UK reportedly could have paid Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna £1.8 billion more than the estimated production cost of these mRNA vaccines.

Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now, said:

“It is pretty sickening that whilst billions of people have not yet had access to a COVID vaccine, pharma execs are celebrating their own greed with a round of back-slapping awards and swigging champagne. 

Not content with billions of pounds in profit, Big Pharma has done all it can to uphold its monopolies on life-saving medicines and health tools, denying access to millions and resulting in thousands of preventable deaths.

We need a new model for the pharmaceutical industry: where global public goods, often developed with public funding, aren’t monopolised for private profit but shared for the good of humanity.”

Carole Webley Brown, a Just Treatment Patient Leader and NHS Nurse, said:

“Many of us lost loved ones during the COVID pandemic, but millions of lives across the world could have been saved if the pharmaceutical industry was run in the interests of people rather than profit. 

It is terrible to think that whilst people in the UK are having their fourth vaccinations, there are millions of vulnerable people in the world who haven’t received a single dose. This injustice is the direct result of companies using pharmaceutical monopolies to make themselves incredibly rich, rather than to share their intellectual property so we can end this virus for good.

Pharma greed kills, and it’s time these corporations were held to account.”

Campaigners are holding an alternative ceremony outside the venue, where mock prizes were awarded to pharma representatives of companies most associated with pandemic profiteering as they leave.