Covid-19 isn’t over, but news of a seemingly successful vaccine trial has prompted a flurry of hope that an end may be in sight.
Boris Johnson said, “I have talked about the distant bugle of the scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill. I can tell you tonight that the bugle is louder, but it’s still some way off.”
A vaccine is often touted as a silver bullet by those wanting to end lockdown.
But right from the start attempts to develop a vaccine have been shaped by the needs of private business and competing nation states.
All the promises of a new vaccine come directly from its manufacturer, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. No independent source has been able to verify the data coming from the firm or that its product could be rolled out in a matter of weeks.
Even if the vaccine works, and it’s distributed quickly, millions of people still stand the risk of death or damage from the virus.
And the idea that a private firm could hold the keys to controlling the spread of Covid-19 is obscene. Developers could have chosen to make the vaccine available for free, ramped up production and based distribution solely on need.
Instead they are charging £14.70 for each of a two-injection course.
It is going to make them eye-wateringly rich. After the vaccine was announced, Pfizer’s shares rose 7.6 percent.
These firms should have made all data and discoveries available to all. Instead they are hoarding commercial secrets.
Under capitalism, drug development doesn’t happen because of a desire to make people better.
The Big Pharma drugs bosses are driven by the bottom line. Products are developed, manufactured, marketed and judged not for their lifesaving potential, but on their profit-making abilities.
Pfizer claims the new drug is over 90 percent effective. It says it would be able to produce 50 million doses this year and 1.3 billion doses next year.
Rich governments are hoovering up huge orders for production—the US has bought 100 million doses and the Tories have grabbed 50 million.
The poorest in the world won’t have access to the vaccine, certainly for months and perhaps never.
As the charity Oxfam said, the vaccine will be “zero percent effective to the people who can’t access or afford it.”
There are treatments for HIV/Aids but globally 14 million people living with HIV still do not have access to the treatment.
The vaccine has to be stored at minus-70 degrees Celsius until the day of use, a huge logistical challenge for poorer countries in the present global set-up.
At every stage capitalism has incubated the coronavirus crisis.
Potentially life-giving scientific development has to be wrestled away from big business.