Despite its Effective COVID Vaccine, Pfizer Is Not Our Pfriend

Pfizer’s income from its COVID-19 vaccine was the “highest one-year tally for a pharmaceutical product in history,” $36.8 billion, wrote the Wall Street Journal in February. Even though we taxpayers funded COVID-19 vaccines drug makers pocket the profits.

As I have written before for CounterPunch, Pfizer’s drug safety track record is shocking and the company is far from our pfriend.

For example, as the world watched Ukraine, Pfizer’s long-acting blood pressure drug, Inderal, was pulled from Canadian shelves because of the presence of cancer-linked nitrosamines. Pfizer’s anti-smoking drug, Chantix, was removed for the same reason last year. It’s called quality control guys.

In one week in 2010 Pfizer:

Suspended pediatric trials of Geodon two months after the FDA said children were being overdosed in the trials

Was investigated by the U.S. House of Representatives for off-label marketing (promoting uses not approved by the FDA) of the kidney transplant drug Rapamune, specifically targeting African-Americans

Agreed to pull its 10-year-old leukemia drug Mylotarg from the market because it caused more not less patient deaths

Received a letter from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) requesting its whistleblower policy

Saw the researcher who put its Bextra, Celebrex and Lyrica on the map, Scott S. Reuben, MD, trotted off to prison for research fraud

Suspended trials of tanezumab, an osteoarthritis pain drug, because patients got worse not better, some needing joint replacements

Was sued by Blue Cross Blue Shield to recoup money it overpaid for Bextra and other drugs

Saw its appeal to end lawsuits by Nigerian families who accused it of illegal trials of the antibiotic Trovan in which 11 children died rejected by the Supreme Court

In addition to its stellar week in 2010, Pfizer also has a checked past with Health and Human Services (HHS) Corporate Integrity Agreements (CIA) that are essentially promise to “sin no more.”

While Pfizer was under a 5-year CIA* with HHS for withholding $20 million in Lipitor rebates owed to Medicaid in 2002, it was already marketing Neurontin for off-label indications which earned it a second CIA in 2004. Undaunted, Pfizer proceeded to market Lyrica, a drug similar to Neurontin (sometimes called “son of Neurontin”) off-label while under its second CIA, earning it a third. CIAs are quite the deterrent!

Before its COVID-19 “good guy” makeover, Pfizer was linked to some of the most notoriously unsafe drugs that have come down the pipeline. It bought Warner-Lambert in 2000 knowing the company’s marketing practices were under criminal investigation and its Rezulin (mentioned below) had been withdrawn. Then Pfizer bought the hormone maker Wyeth knowing it carried the baggage of the diet drug Fen-Phen’s heart valve suits and cancer lawsuits from its hormone replacement drug.

Despite living on U.S. tax dollars, Pfizer tried in 2015 to dodge paying U.S. taxes by merging with non-U.S. companies and incorporating overseas. Who can say hypocrite?

Pharma Is Not the Red Cross

COVID-19 bestowed a huge image overhaul for Pharma among the pubic

including among progressives who seem to have forgiven the injuries the profit-hungry industry leaves in its wake (pun intended). Suddenly Pharma is no longer the industry responsible for 100,000 U.S. opioid overdose deaths just last year –– Pfizer only added a warning to its opioids in 2016 –– and a growing number of talcum powder-related ovarian cancers lawsuits. It is not the industry that caused 38,000 deaths and 88,000 heart attacks from Vioxx and an untold amount of suicides from SSRI antidepressants’ whose labels warn against suicide (including Pfizer’s Zoloft).

Suddenly, Pharma is no longer the industry that launched and profited from risky, withdrawn drugs like Baycol, Trovan, Seldane, Hismanal, Darvon, Vioxx, Bextra, Mylotarg, Lotronex, Propulsid, Raxar, phenylpropanolamine (PPA), Manoplax, fenfluramine, DMAA, Rezulin, temafloxacin and phenacetin –– often only admitting harm when the drug went off patent.

It is no longer the industry that boasts three lobbyists for every member of Congress and so capitalizes media outlets through its advertising that reporters treat its wrongdoing as untouchable –– no, it is a humanitarian organization that saved us from COVID-19 out of the goodness of its heart.

COVID-19 has been so good to Pharma, an analyst for a capital management firm says drug makers are now wondering “How do we turn this into an ongoing business?”

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).