“The Oxford vaccine is… striking, since the point was to pay researchers, but not to rely on patent monopolies to generate large profits.” – Economist Dean Baker
by Alan Macleod
Part 4 - An inglorious history
Many will be relieved that an alternative offering to the ones on offer from Pfizer and Moderna has been green-lighted, although suspicion of vaccines remains high, with only 58% of Americans stating that they would be willing to receive a free, FDA-approved shot when the time comes. This, despite the fact that well over 12.5 million Americans have already tested positive for COVID-19, and over 262,000 deaths have been recorded.
Part of the problem is doubtless due to companies like Pfizer’s inglorious history.
In 2011, for example, the company finally agreed to pay compensation to families of 11 Nigerian children who were killed in a meningitis trial where the pharmaceutical giant did not gain their parents’ consent to use experimental drugs on them.
Two years later, Pfizer was forced to pay half a billion dollars in fines over a false and misleading marketing campaign and $55 million to victims who claimed it did not warn them about the risks involved in taking its acid reflux drug Protonix.
And last year, 44 states came together to file a civil lawsuit in a federal court against the giant, accusing it of “one of the most egregious and damaging price-fixing conspiracies in the history of the United States.”
AstraZeneca, the British/Swedish multinational partnering with Oxford University, is far from blameless itself, however. Over the years it has been convicted of falsely advertising its products, releasing, overcharging Medicare and private insurance companies, and of carrying out shockingly sexist employment practices.
While investors have forgiven the company for these transgressions, it appears that they are more shocked by the news of a not-for-profit COVID vaccine. Today, the company’s share price slid by two percent following the announcement of the vaccine’s effectiveness.
Baker suggested that the story of the Oxford vaccine should serve as an example of how a more efficiently and sanely organized healthcare system could look like, telling MintPress that,
The Oxford vaccine is even more striking, since the point was to pay researchers, but not to rely on patent monopolies to generate large profits. We ended up with a cheaper, better vaccine, in the sense that it is much easier to store and distribute. It would be great if we could take away some lessons from the experience of vaccine development in this crisis and get away from the antiquated patent monopoly mechanism for financing research.
Yet with both major parties vigorously opposing Medicare-for-All, even through a worldwide pandemic, it is unlikely that this will cause a major rethink in elite circles, at least. Nevertheless, in a year that has given the world so little to smile about, this new breakthrough is undoubtedly good news.