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Follow the money: the firms making billions out of the virus


This is a translation of a broadcast entitled Die Impfkampagne (Follow the Money) by the German author and journalist ERNST WOLFF, which was aired on the German channel KenFM on March 1, 2020.

THE world is experiencing the first global vaccination campaign in its history. In contrast to the past, this time vaccines are being used that were developed within barely more than a year and therefore could not be tested for long-term side effects. It is therefore impossible to make an empirical decision for or against vaccination.

It is all the more important to realise that the current mass vaccination is not only about disease prevention, but also about a lot of money. So it is a good idea to take a look at the material interests that are driving the current campaign in the background.

Let’s start with the Mainz company Biontech. It was founded in 2008 by the German researcher couple Sahin-Türeci and financed by the Sprüngmann brothers from Upper Bavaria, who had previously become billionaires in the pharmaceutical industry with the Hexal company. Biontech has been listed on the stock exchange since October 2019; the company value is currently around $23billion. In September 2019, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the investors with $55million.

Biontech’s major partner in vaccine development is Pfizer, the US pharmaceutical giant founded more than 170 years ago. Its market value at the end of 2019 was $236billion. Its largest shareholders include asset managers Vanguard and BlackRock.

Biontech’s German competitor, the Tübingen company CureVac , which has its legal seat in the Netherlands for tax reasons, was founded in 2000 and financed from 2006 to 2014 exclusively by a holding company owned by the billionaire SAP [German software company] founder and Hoffenheim [football club] patron Dietmar Hopp, who still holds around half of the shares. In 2015, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined as an investor with an amount of $52million. Both sides agreed not to disclose any further commitment by the Gates Foundation in 2018. CureVac has been listed on the US technology exchange Nasdaq since August 2020 and also counts the Qatari sovereign wealth fund among its financiers.

The company Moderna, founded in 2010 at Harvard University, maintains various partnerships, including with the pharmaceutical companies Merck and AstraZeneca, and is also involved in a research programme for the US Department of Defense.

After losing $865million in the first eight years, the company went public on the US technology exchange Nasdaq in December 2018 and had a market capitalisation of $7.5billion when it was listed. The seven largest shareholders include asset managers Vanguard, Fidelity and BlackRock.

Based on its sales agreements, Moderna expects vaccine revenues of $18.4billion in 2021, ahead of Pfizer, which, together with Biontech, expects annual sales of around $15billion.

The AstraZeneca group was created in 1999 through the merger of the Swedish company Astra AB with the British Zeneca group. The company was not a major vaccine manufacturer in the past and only began to play a central role in vaccine production during the coronavirus crisis. AstraZeneca generated $3.2billion in profits last year and is listed on stock exchanges in London, New York, Stockholm and two stock exchanges in India. The group’s largest shareholders include Capital Research, BlackRock and Wellington Management.

The pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine has just been approved in the USA, achieved sales of $82.6billion in fiscal year 2020 and posted a net profit of $14.7billion. The company’s market value in 2019 was $368billion, and its five largest shareholders include Vanguard, BlackRock and Wellington Management.

As you can see, all vaccine manufacturers are real financial giants. Not only that: the same financiers keep appearing behind them. The largest among them, BlackRock, is also an adviser to both the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank (ECB).

Although the corporations have made huge profits in recent years, the EU has contributed €7.5billion to the vaccination campaign in 2020: €4billion for research into a vaccine, €2billion for the treatment of the disease and €1.5billion for the development of tests. The German government has recently announced that it would support the World Health Organisation’s Covax vaccination campaign with a further 1.5billion euros.

If you consider that the global financial system is currently hanging by a thread and can be kept alive only by constantly driving the markets up, it becomes clear that the current vaccination campaign is by no means just a medical one, but at the same time in difficult times a most welcome economic and financial project.

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Edited by Kathy Gyngell

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