Covid vaccine makers face investor pressure over global access

Financial Times
06 January 2022
Covid-19 vaccines
Covid vaccine makers face investor pressure over global access
Asset managers call for pharma executive pay to be linked to equitable distribution of jabs

Drugmakers need to prioritise global access to Covid-19 vaccines and tie management pay to equitable distribution, a group of top international investors has said.

Asset managers Nomura, BMO and GAM are among 65 institutional investors that have written to leading pharmaceutical companies urging them “to make the global availability of vaccines part of the remuneration policy of managers and directors”. The signatories represent more than $3.5tn in assets under management.

“It is clear that currently a large part of the world population still does not have sufficient and equitable access to vaccines,” the investors said in the letter, published on Thursday.

“A pandemic which remains out of control in many parts of the world is and should be at the top of our agenda as global investors, and also for governments and the companies in which we invest.” The letter was sent to the boards of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson…

… Drugmakers should prioritise fulfilling contracts for vaccine access schemes Covax and African Vaccine Acquisition Trust “as a matter of urgency”, the investors wrote, and provide transparency and clear monthly supply schedules to these distribution alliances as well as to low- and middle-income countries.

They added that companies should negotiate areas such as delivery swaps with countries that already have high coverage, and commit to greater expertise and technology transfer including licensing rights.

“Pharmaceutical companies have a duty to do their utmost on this but unfortunately we see that they are lagging behind. In addition, the business case is clear: new variants threaten the recovery of economies around the world,” said Rogier Krens, chief investment officer of Achmea Investment Management, the Netherlands-based fund manager that co-ordinated the letter.

Achmea said it would vote against any executive pay packages that did not integrate these objectives. Voting policy among the other signatories may vary. Alex Rowe, portfolio manager at Japan-based Nomura Asset Management, said “prioritising access to vaccines over near-term profits is not only the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, but the most sustainable long-term approach for these businesses”.

He said this would help lower the risk of new variants developing and of any potential backlash against drugmakers “with regards to their role in limiting the impact on human life”.

The emergence of the highly infectious Omicron coronavirus variant in southern Africa in November highlighted the consequences of failures to vaccinate vast swaths of the world’s population. Global markets tumbled and many countries were forced to bring in new lockdown measures in an effort to halt the spread.

Most of the 65 investors that signed the letter hold small stakes in three of the biggest vaccine manufacturers: Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer. The largest by some distance is a 0.3 per cent stake in Pfizer held by Canada’s BMO Global Asset Management, worth $1.04bn, while Achmea’s largest pharma holding is a 0.01 per cent stake in J&J valued at $41.1m, according to S&P Capital IQ.