Covid vaccine progress hampered by push for market solution

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Contributed by Jim Hayes

Donald trump comes down with Covid -19 and he is administered a drug cocktail, most if it made by company that stands to make a fortune out of the Pandemic and the President has shares in.

Regeneron (REGN), the company in question, is owned by Leonard Schleifer, an associate of Trump’s. His company was given a $US450 million subsidy in July. Schleifer’s personal wealth has risen from $US2.1 billion to $2.5 billion since March.

Although how many shares Trump has in Regeneration has not been made public, there is a clear conflict of interest here. Trump also has shares in Gilead Sciences (GILD), which makes another part of the Trump treatment cocktail.

It is understood that Regeneron already has a deal with pharma giant Roche, to distribute its vaccine as soon as the green light is given.

This goes some way towards understanding why the White House has been unwilling to work on a shared global response. and provides some context to Trump’s war against the World Health organisation (WHO). Cooperation is not good for business.

Back in the 1990’s the WHO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, The World Bank, and others launched the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. It is now known as GAVI: The Vaccine alliance.

The involvement of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and World Bank as major donors is controversial. This is another issue. Whatever motives might lie behind this, it remains that lives have been saved. GAVI’s core mission has been to bring vaccines to millions of children at risk in poor countries.

Covid-19 created the circumstances where Gavi joined with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI), and both focused on the pandemic. Their objectives have been to build a global network of research laboratories, stopping nations form hoarding any successful vaccine, and ensuring accessibility without discrimination and prohibitive cost.

One hundred and seventy two countries are working with this project. China has joined and given it a considerable boost. China is also leading the field in research, with a range of vaccine options, including four on clinical trials, which could be ready for global distribution within months.

The United States continues to refuse to join and has dragged many of its camp followers to do the same. The way was eased by accusations made against the WHO and China.

Motivating this, is the wish to impose a monopoly over the vaccine research, production, and distribution. The first indicator of this, was the move to buy German Covid research company. sole rights over the work of German researchers.

Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to devastate the United States, and is on the rise again in other parts of the world. A big problem is the ideological bent towards only giving legitimacy to a market solution to the pandemic, compounded by the self-interest of those seeking to profit from the illness.

They see government’s allocated role as having the responsibility of ensuring corporate ownership of any vaccine, guaranteeing market is in their control is, and locking competition, especially if it comes through global cooperation. Global cooperation is not good for business.

This attitude is infecting Australia. Little is heard here about the global initiative to work together to overcome the health crisis. Although the Australian government has at least identified with CEPI and donated $12 million, the relationship remains low key.

The rest of the $350 million allocated for vaccine research has gone to the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, University of Queensland and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

Australian research institutions must be funded, and the money allocated will be put to good sue. It would be even better if there was a closer partnership with researches the world over, through more extensive participation in the global research network.

There isn’t because the Morrison government remains entrenched in favouring the private sector and political ties with the United States and Great Britain, rather on what works best.

The odds are that the vaccine will first come from those participating in the global effort. If this comes to pass, will Australians and peoples of those other nations with governments unwilling to take part, be denied a vaccine that works?

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