Big news broke recently on a significant leap forward in the fight against COVID-19. Early results from the first phase of a vaccine study showed promising and safe results.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is there’s growing concern that a loophole could allow a pharma giant to profiteer while pricing some out of the market and limiting the vaccine’s reach.

This past April, in the throes of the pandemic’s spread, the University of Oxford inked a partnership with AstraZeneca for the research and development of a COVID-19 vaccine after receiving tens of millions of dollars in government funding.

The parties agreed that, if successful, the vaccine would be sold on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic.

Here’s the catch: what happens when the pandemic is over, but there is still significant demand for the vaccine?

The answer is we don’t know because the pharma giant won’t tell us. In their words, its “too early to comment on pricing post pandemic.

We do know this: even whispers that the trial could yield positive results sent AstraZeneca’s stock price soaring.

Now let’s be clear: financial gains are not bad things. Companies who invest time and resources into the discovery of a vaccine should be rewarded. But when that investment also includes tens of millions in public funds, no one should be priced out. And transparency is of prime importance.

In an open letter to executives at both AstraZeneca and Oxford, one of the trial’s first participants, Luigi Ceccaroni, demanded that the parties publicize specifics of what’s being called a secret agreement.

“AstraZeneca has said they will produce the vaccine with no profit during the pandemic but this will be defined by the company and cannot be independently verified,” he wrote. “This lack of transparency also leaves the door open for the company to profit from this publicly-funded vaccine after the World Health Organization declares the pandemic is over but the need for a vaccine may still exist.”

Making money is one thing, but Big Pharma should not be able to shield data and information on a publicly funded project from the public. Nor should they be able to have exclusive rights over a vaccine they used public funds to create. That’s what creates monopolies, enables price gouging, and restricts supplies.

We all want a vaccine and we all want it fast. We wish everyone working on it the very best.

But using a loophole to profiteer off a publicly funded vaccine? That’s when you know Big Pharma’s money-first mentality has gone too far.

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