NYT - Covid Too Critical to Be Left to the Private Sector

Back to the future. Move over, Big Pharma. It's time for governments to take the reins in times of catstrophe.

Today's New York Times editorial urges a greater role for the public sector over corporate giants in times of global emergency. They're right.

Low- and middle-income nations are facing an unconscionable shortage of coronavirus vaccines that threatens to upend progress against the pandemic.

So far, this global shortage has been obscured by pockets of vaccine abundance in wealthier countries like the United States. But if the shortage isn’t addressed soon, the trouble will become all too clear. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people will continue to get sick and die, even as the pandemic recedes in richer nations. The most fragile economies will continue to teeter, and gains made elsewhere will eventually be imperiled: The longer the virus spreads, the greater the chance it mutates into something even more contagious, deadly or vaccine-resistant.

...Nearly as soon as vaccines entered clinical trials, wealthy countries began hoarding doses, ensuring that instead of the most vulnerable people everywhere being vaccinated, their residents would be first in line.

Then, as the vaccines came to market, some vaccine makers insisted on sweeping liability protections that further imperiled access for poorer countries. The United States, for example, is prohibited from selling or donating its unused doses, as Vanity Fair has reported, because the strong liability protections that drugmakers enjoy here don’t extend to other countries.

In other countries, Pfizer has reportedly not only sought liability protection against all civil claims — even those that could result from the company’s own negligence — but has asked governments to put up sovereign assets, including their bank reserves, embassy buildings and military bases, as collateral against lawsuits.

...Companies and countries are hoarding both raw materials and technical expertise, and have prevented poorer nations from suspending patents despite international treaties that allow for such measures in emergencies.

The editorial urges four reforms. One, wealthy nations must stop hoarding vaccines. Two, patents on coronavirus-related vaccines and therapeutics should be suspended for the duration of the pandemic. Three, advanced nations should freely share their technology and expertise with poorer nations that seek to develop vaccine manufacturing capacity. Four, build more capacity in places where vaccine manufacturing doesn't meet local demand such as Africa and Latin America.

Before the neoliberals foolishly allowed the private sector to monopolize scientific research and development, governments funded more research and freely shared discoveries. It was done in public, not hidden in corporate laboratories out of the public eye. Lord Martin Rees, former head of the Royal Society, deals with this problem at length in his book, Our Final Hour. He argues that privatization brings all manner of ills including incentivizing risk taking, bio-error, out of the public eye. He makes a very powerful case that research belongs in the public sector, not behind the curtains of the private sector.

Remember that neither Pfizer nor the Moderna people developed the mRNA science that allowed these dominant vaccines to be rolled out so quickly. Two scientists, one an immigrant from Hungary, achieved that breakthrough years ago. So its hard to justify giving these corporations a lock on that technology, especially in times of emergency. Big Pharma did not invent this wheel.


  1. The Greedy Bastards club strikes again.



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