Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Vaccine Race

 Several drug-makers now optimistically forecast that they can put into production an effective vaccine for COVID-19 and they stand to make enormous profits. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has already caused at least 1.33 million deaths around the world, means massive profits for Big Pharma. 

While all these individual companies across the world scrambled to develop a vaccine, one would think these companies and governments would have been able to come together to coordinate and pool their research to stem the spread of a virus that threatens us all. Not so.  Nations treated the development of the vaccine as a race, competing to win and accrue all the lucrative rewards of being first. All the scientific efforts and experiments were done in an uncollaborative manner. What mattered first and foremost to the pharmaceutical corporations was the effect on the value of their shares.

 In many countries scientific research receives state funding, but the resulting profits end up in private hands. The Bayh-Dole Act allows U.S. universities to sell patents on discoveries funded by tax dollars.  Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a Trump administration initiative, already reached an agreement with Moderna, and on August 11, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “announced up to $1.5 billion in funds to support the large-scale manufacturing and delivery of Moderna’s investigational vaccine candidate” in exchange for 100 million doses. That came on top of earlier support to the tune of $483 million and $472 millionAmong the main investments of OWS, there was “approximately $1 billion in funds to support the large-scale manufacturing and delivery of Johnson & Johnson’s (Janssen)” — added on August 5 to a previous $456 million. On May 21, HHS announced “up to $1.2 billion in support for AstraZeneca’s candidate vaccine, developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford.” On July 7, HHS announced $1.6 billion in funds to support Novavax. And on July 31, $2 billion were announced for Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) investigational adjuvanted vaccine. This $10 billion budget for OWS alone was approved by Congress.

While Pfizer received no OWS funds. The government reached an agreement to buy 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine if it wins approval, which would be enough to guarantee the two doses needed for 50 million people. The agreement also included an option to buy an additional 500 million doses. 

These companies have raked in public funding and increased their share prices, and now will add to that through deals with countries that will have to pay millions of dollars for access to the vaccine.

Global Justice Now have already pointed out, a majority of the vaccine doses that could be available in the near future have already been claimed by wealthy countries. For example, 780 million doses — or 78 percent of the doses Moderna claims it can produce by next year — have already been sold to the world’s wealthiest governments. The vaccine race has left most of the world to scramble for whatever is left when the great powers are done.

The challenge won’t only be purchasing vaccines but also handling the expensive distribution requirements, including access to freezers and dry ice. Dr. Germ├ín Malaga, who is working on Peru’s response to the pandemic, told CNN that there are about 30 ultra-cold freezers in Lima to handle the Pfizer vaccine, but that “for the other 20 million Peruvians, including in the Andes and the rainforest, there are none.”

 India and South Africa submitted a request to the WHO to “guarantee a waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19.” In other words, the manufacture of vaccines will be held back by patents.

The capitalists are touting vaccine development as an example of the merits of innovation. In reality, though, the global vaccine race has exposed the falsehood of some of the most closely held beliefs of the capitalist elite. These include the idea that capitalism “raises all boats” and “stimulates innovation.” As we have seen, rather than coordinating and sharing the results of scientific research, each multinational company is working on its own, in complete secrecy. Companies are wasting resources on duplicate research and taking much longer to find a vaccine. Imagine if the world’s great scientific minds all collaborated to develop the best possible vaccine in the shortest possible time. It is not hyperbole to say we would likely already have a vaccine saving lives. Medicines should be made for the public good, not patented by private companies. All medicines, vaccines, and beneficial therapies should belong to the people. [the World Socialist Movement goes further and demands that all necessities be made freely available to all]

We need to eliminate competition and unite research and development efforts across borders. 

Taken from here

Capitalist Competition Is Sabotaging the Race for a Vaccine | Common Dreams Views

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