By Yuri Prasad
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Tories and drug firms abandon people to Covid harm

The AstraZeneca drug Evusheld could help, but it won't reach patients
Issue 2084
Two scientists in a gleaming laboratory at AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca’s Discovery Centre (Pic: Hufton+Crow/AstraZeneca)

Hundreds of thousands of people with weakened immune systems are being hung out to dry by the Tories and big pharma. The head of the giant AstraZeneca firm this week launched a stinging attack on the government because it has failed to buy its drug Evusheld.

The new jab can protect people whose bodies have not responded to Covid vaccines and stop them from getting seriously ill. Among them are people with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to blood cancer and kidney failure—and those who’ve had organ transplants.

The drug was approved by British regulators last month and has been rolled out in many other countries, including France and the US. It can cut the risk of developing Covid by nearly 80 percent. But the government insists that at £800 for a shot every six months, Evusheld is too expensive for the NHS.

AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot says Britain is, “one of the rare developed countries in the world that has not ordered Evusheld. It’s a sad situation, quite frankly, because people who are immune-compromised are really suffering from the Covid crisis.”

Soriot adds that they are at greater risk now that the government has lifted all Covid restrictions. “They also represent a pretty large proportion of the people who are hospitalised for Covid, so they do need access to this medicine,” he says.

There’s no doubt that the Tories care little for the more than 500,000 people who are forced to carry on shielding while the rest of the country has returned to “normality”. And, their refusal to buy Evusheld is part of a far wider pattern of medicine and healthcare rationing that fails some vulnerable patients.

Helen Simmonds, who takes immunosuppressant drugs to treat her multiple sclerosis, says she feels abandoned. “I feel like I’m trapped in March 2020 and everyone has moved on,” she told the Financial Times newspaper. “I don’t want people to go around in hazmat suits for my benefit but there’s more this government can do. There’s just no political gain in caring about the immunocompromised.”

She is right to target the government, but AstraZeneca’s hands are far from clean. The firm is famous for having developed an early vaccine against the coronavirus, and for pledging that it would be priced so poorer, as well as richer countries could buy it.

Since then, however, the pharmaceutical giant has seen revenue rise by more than 60 percent to over £9 billion. Just under a billion of that turnover was made selling Covid vaccines, now at market rates. However Soriot is worried that as vaccine sales fall, so too will profits. That’s why he is so enthusiastic about the potential of Evusheld.

Giant drugs firms are not interested in the lives of vulnerable people, they simply make a spreadsheet calculation as to what price to charge to maximise profits. Meanwhile, those in desperate need of Evusheld are being used as political pawns.

The only way to break this deadly cycle, which is repeated for drugs to treat all manner of illnesses, is to take the pharmaceutical industry out of the hands of the rich. That means nationalising the laboratories and manufacturing facilities—and putting them under democratic control.

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