Table of Contents
- Medicines and Capitalism
- Building Trust in Science and Vaccines
- Medical Extortion: The Crisis of Drug Pricing and Access
- Making Academic Research Work in the Public Interest
- Tax Dodging in the Pharmaceutical Industry
- Patent Protections and Corporate Secrecy
- Accelerating Vaccine Production
- Alternatives for the Future
The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines has been front page news since the start of the year when vaccinations started. Significant progress has been made since late Spring, but the rollout remains behind schedule, plagued by is sues of supply and almost constant controversy. In the South of Ireland, at time of writing, just 1 in 3 people have been fully vaccinated – far short of what would be required to offer any kind of population level protection against the virus.
The rollout of vaccines in the North of Ireland, discounting a sluggish start, has proceeded much more quickly, in part due to level of centralisation and organisation of the public NHS system, and in part due to a greater supply of vaccine from Westminster. Still, just 50% of the Northern population have been fully vaccinated – short of what would be required for effective population-level protection.
As the more transmissible Delta variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus becomes dominant across the island and cases rise once more, rapid vaccination, particularly focused on completion of immunisation in older cohorts, will be essential if we are to avoid another serious wave of infections.
While we are entering another phase of uncertainty in Ireland, with much of the population still to be vaccinated, the situation globally is much worse – labelled by Oxfam as “vaccine apartheid”.
As it stands, 9 in 10 people in 70 of the world’s poorest countries will have no access to Covid-19 vaccines in 202142– people living in the countries with the least developed public health systems and the least capacity to deal with the pandemic are being locked out of access to vaccines that could save their lives. The deadly cost of this vaccine inequality was hammered home in real time on the Indian subcontinent recently, where over 400,000 people died from an infection despite the existence of an effective vaccine.
Meanwhile, wealthy countries, representing just 14% of the world’s population have bought up enough vaccine to cover their popula tions several times over – together, the EU, US, UK and a handful of other countries have purchased almost the entire supply of the Moderna vaccine for 2021 and over 96% of the supply of the Pfizer/BionNTech vaccine.
This is a moral outrage, in a global public health emergency, vaccines and medicines should be distributed on the basis of need, not the ability to pay or monopolise production. Vaccine inequality will prolong the pandemic for us all, costing more lives, and causing more misery. A recent report from the International Chamber of Commerce projected that vaccine in equality could cost up to $9.2 trillion in economic losses if it continues at the level it is at today – with a disproportionate burden falling on the poorest and least developed countries of the Global South. Continuing vaccine inequality threatens us all. As the virus is allowed to continue circulating in unvaccinated populations, the risk of novel strains emerging is greater and more prolonged.
We have already seen the emergence of more transmissible and deadly strains, and some that reduce the efficacy of certain vaccines – the P1 variant that first emerged in Brazil, and the Delta strain that is becoming dominant across Europe, after wreaking havoc on the Indian subcontinent. The longer people in the Global South are denied vaccines, the longer this pandemic will persist and the greater the risk will be of strains emerging that render vaccines ineffective, and our progress to date, lost. We will not be safe until everyone is safe.
To tackle these grave threats and crises, we must understand and address their root causes. Patent protections, corporate secrecy, and the prioritisation of private profits over public health in the pharmaceutical industry. These issues have recently come to the fore, but they are not unique to the pandemic. Rather, they are key features of the capitalist system in the pharmaceutical industry, which have become entrenched over the course of decades through a deliberate process of commodification of healthcare. The present moment offers an opportunity to break from the broken capitalist model of pharmaceutical development in favour of a more democrat ic, socialist model that would put people’s health and wellbeing before profit.
1st July 2021