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Improving Access
to Vaccines

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COVID-19 has shown that global vaccination is required to combat pandemics. Yet vaccination rates in low-income countries are far lower than in rich countries. Activists are targeting drug industry policies, with mixed success.

A WIDE GAP

Global vaccination is how to end pandemics, according to the World Health Organization. Without it, variants flourish, as COVID-19 has shown. The gulf between COVID-19 vaccination rates in rich countries and in poor ones is wide. Some activists and nongovernmental organizations have targeted access to closely held pharmaceutical-industry know-how, as well as pricing policies, to close the gap.

VACCINE ACCESS POLICIES

Investors who want to change pharmaceutical-industry policies can practice active ownership by voting on shareholder resolutions that seek to improve vaccine access. COVID-19 has spurred activity. According to Morningstar Sustainalytics’ proxy data feed, shareholders voted on three COVID-19 vaccine access resolutions in 2021, and five in 2022.

PRICING AND IP

In the long run, access is an innovation challenge for drug-company business models. This year’s resolutions focused on two narrower issues: pricing and intellectual property. A Johnson & Johnson resolution asked for a report on the public-health costs of not sharing production technology. A Merck resolution asked it to report on how public financial support for its COVID-19 drug would affect access policies. Resolutions at Pfizer and Moderna asked for reports on the feasibility of transferring IP.

DECLINING SUPPORT

Merck’s resolution got the most support, with 36% of shareholders voting in favor. Just 29% of Moderna’s shareholders and 27% of Pfizer’s supported the IP-transfer resolution, according to Sustainalytics. On average, support for resolutions related to COVID-19 vaccine access declined to 21% this year, from 31% in 2021. Activists did chalk up some wins, withdrawing pricing-related proposals at Pfizer and Moderna following concessions from both companies.

SHAREHOLDER SUPPORT FOR COVID VACCINE ACCESS RESOLUTIONS
Data Source: Morningstar Sustainalytics Proxy Data Feed


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