“If we do not act now then we will have turned our backs on the poorest people on Earth.”Jon Trickett MP
By Jon Trickett MP
When asked to explain the extraordinary speed and success of the work to develop vaccines against COVID, our revolting Prime Minister went even deeper into the gutter than ever when he said this success was down to one thing – capitalism’s central ethos of greed.
There is no doubt that if greed was the central motivation, then – whilst millions fell ill or tragically died – a few were well rewarded with fabulous wealth.
So, in late November last year, when news began to spread about the discovery of a mutated variant of the virus: scientists across the world scrambled to understand the new strain. We all reacted in horror. But it was like ‘happy days are here again’ for the pharmaceuticals.
Indeed, their share prices began to skyrocket. Within a week, 8 of the top Pfizer and Moderna shareholders collectively became $10 billion richer.
To take one example: Pfizer, increased their value by over 50% between 2019 and 2021, taking their total market capitalisation to £244.57 billion.
And then there are the big pay checks the chief executives took home last year. AstraZeneca’s boss earned £15.4 million; Pfizer’s £15.5 million and; Moderna’s £9.59 million. But these explosions of wealth in Big Pharma need to be understood in context.
The background to all this was of course a pandemic which threatened our common humanity. A huge effort went into the collective search by scientists, researchers, lab technicians and others drawing on the work of earlier generations.
Clearly there was an alternative ethos at play: not greed but the altruistic search by people working together in the common interest. This is what really drove the research.
But there were others who still put the relentless search for profits by shareholders and corporate executives in big pharma first.
The apologists for Big Pharma claim large scale profits are needed to fund research. But it is untrue in the case of the pandemic vaccine. The Secretary of State for Health Sajid Javid, claimed that waiving patent rights for the vaccine would be “a huge disincentive for pharmaceutical companies” to produce new treatments in the future.
Yet detailed analysis of how the vaccine research was conducted has shown that the pharmaceutical companies only put in under 3% of the research funds. 97% was paid for by the taxpayers, and to a smaller extent by charitable foundations.
The taxpayers, through the government, were also the customers buying the vaccine. So, the public shouldered 97% of research costs and 100% of the customer costs. Yet, every single penny of profit was privatised.
When you think about it, it is a scandal.
But what is worse is that our government (and others) have now built a kind of wall around the pharmaceuticals. The purpose of this wall was the protection of corporate interests rather than to protect human lives.
When former Prime Minister Gordon Brown argued that the actions of the UK and EU were neo-colonial in character, he was right. The decision to not share vaccine patents left poorer countries without the capacity to produce their own vaccines in sufficient numbers at cost price.
It left them dependent on supplies by Big Pharma or upon ‘charitable giving’ by states such as the UK which claims it is distributing large numbers of vaccines to poorer countries. But the numbers are insufficient and in many cases the vaccines supplied have passed their expiration date. It’s reported that less than 1% of Pfizer’s vaccines got to the developing world.
Now the WHO is predicting a shortfall of 3 billion doses of vaccines in poorer nations, including many African countries.
Less than 12% in Africa have had the vaccine. In some nations, it is less than 5%. But the apologists for Big Pharma make the totally false and quite frankly insulting suggestion that there is more resistance to the vaccine there than in Europe and North America.
It’s time to put people before the profits of the pharmaceutical company shareholders. It’s time vaccine patents were waived.
Because, unless we make more vaccines available in poorer countries then new strains will keep recurring.
If we do not act now then we will have turned our backs on the poorest people on Earth.
In any case no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Yet the industry is already salivating at the notion that we will need annual booster jabs against Covid and maybe we do. But poorer countries need it equally. It’s just that profitability is higher here than it is there.
- Jon Trickett is the MP for Hemsworth, you can follow him on Facebook and twitter.
- Watch Jon speak on this topic at “The Global Struggle for Climate & Vaccine Justice“, which took place as part of “Making Another World Possible – an internationalist agenda for the Left & Labour” on Saturday March 5th.