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Pandemic creates new pharma, food billionaires

Pandemic creates new pharma, food billionaires
A Palestinian student receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza Strip in January. File Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

May 23 (UPI) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has created more than 40 new pharmaceutical billionaires and 62 new food billionaires, according to the international nonprofit Oxfam.

Oxfam released its "Profiting From Pain" report ahead of the World Economic Forum, during which global business and political leaders will meet in Davos, Switzerland, for the first time in more than two years.

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"They have a lot to celebrate. During the COVID-19 pandemic their mountain of wealth has reached unprecedented and dizzying heights," the report from Oxfam reads.

"The pandemic, full of sorrow and disruption for most of humanity, has been one of the best times in recorded history for the billionaire class."

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Oxfam said that drug companies such as Moderna and Pfizer have profited from the monopolies their companies currently hold in vaccines, treatments, tests and personal protective equipment largely coming from public funding.

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"Pharmaceutical giants are making over $1,000 a second in profit from vaccines alone and they are charging governments up to 24 times more than it would cost to produce vaccines on a generic basis," Oxfam said, citing research the nonprofit previously conducted.

Oxfam said that Moderna particularly has been "immensely successful at converting public funding into private wealth."

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"The company has created four new vaccine billionaires who are worth a combined $10 billion, while just 1% of its total vaccine supply has gone to the poorest countries," Oxfam said.

Meanwhile, Pfizer, which has been accused of using "dirty tactics" to boost profits including funding misinformation about the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, has sold the most vaccines in the world but has delivered the least to low-income countries as a proportion of total doses sold.

Pfizer and partner BioNTech said Monday that late-stage studies have shown that three smaller doses of their COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 5 are about 80% effective in protecting them from the virus.

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The companies said they will submit the results to federal regulators this week seeking authorization to vaccinate the youngest children in the United States.

James Cargill II and a dozen members of his family have seen their fortune increase by almost $20 million per day from their Cargill food empire while global inflation has seen food prices rise by 33.6% in the past year -- the largest rise in prices logged by the United Nations since those records began in 1990.

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"Across the world, from New York to New Delhi, ordinary people are suffering. Prices everywhere are rising -- of flour, cooking oil, fuel, electricity," the Oxfam report reads.

"This is inequality that kills, contributing to the death of at least one person every four seconds. Only the richest are immune. Not only are they immune, but billionaires have objectively benefited from these multiple crises."

Billionaires have seen their wealth increase as much in the last two years as they did in the previous 23 years, according to research conducted by Oxfam.

Meanwhile, the effects of the pandemic and rising food prices could push 263 million people globally into extreme poverty this year.

"In the same time it took on average to create a new billionaire during the pandemic, one million people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year," Oxfam said.

Oxfam said it would take 112 years for the average person in the bottom 50% of the population to make what someone in the top 1% makes in just one year.

The Walton family, which owns about half of Walmart's shares, have seen their wealth rise by $8.8 billion since 2020 and are collectively worth $238 billion.

Oxfam noted that the average salary for a Walmart worker is $20,942. If dividend payouts that have been made to shareholders had instead been used to boost salaries, the average worker would make $30,904.

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"Even with such an increase, the average Walmart worker would still be making less than the $15 per hour threshold, but it would make a world of a difference in the face of the spiraling cost of living," Oxfam said.

Oxfam said that the central banks of nations around the world injected trillions of dollars into their economies to spare them from the effects of the pandemic which was "essential because it prevented total economic collapse" but it also drove up the net worth of billionaires.

The charity proposed that governments employ a one-off "windfall tax" on such billionaires on their gains during the pandemic, similar to Argentina, as well as permanent wealth taxes.

"The introduction of one-off solidarity or emergency taxes on the richest must pave the way for a more fundamental solution," Oxfam said.

"Permanent taxation of wealth that rebalances the taxation of capital and labor can greatly reduce inequality, as well as combat the disproportionate political power and the outsize carbon emissions of the super-wealthy."

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