‘Profits versus people’ has always been the dichotomy at the heart of the pharmaceutical industry.
Renegade Inc. host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with author, Gerald Posner, to discuss whether Big Pharma will use the Corona virus as an opportunity to redeem itself after decades of wrongdoing and greed, or whether will it continue business as usual?
The pharmaceutical industry’s reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic has provided them with a possible once in a lifetime opportunity for enormous profits. With governments around the world in panic and their populations in a state of fear, the rush for vaccines and treatments becomes an increasingly important factor in staving off socioeconomic decline within nations.
Pharmaceutical companies are salivating at the prospect of being the first to develop a vaccine which could be a game changer in terms of their business models. Posner believes the key driver for Big Pharma’s rush for vaccines is profit maximization and the securing of patents to ensure monopoly selling rights.
In attempting to avoid this kind of eventuality, an organisation called the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was formed in 2016 by the governments of Norway and India, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others. CEPIs key aim is to develop platforms for vaccines against unknown pathogens with the public interest in mind that transcends the need for corporate-owned patents.
However, according to Posner in his latest book, Pharma, Greed, Lies and the Poisoning of America, CEPI tried, but failed, to get the pharmaceutical companies to ensure that patents were made available to everyone in society. The result is that corporations have taken governments to court over patent rights and, against the public interest, have won their cases.
Posner cites the successful attempt by the company, Burrough’s to secure the patent rights of the treatment of HIV and AIDS. The corporation priced the drug, AZT, at $10,000 a patient.
“The government behind the scenes will pay the price that the pharmaceutical companies want. They get away with it because they have the lobbyists. The two big political parties in the US are to blame and that’s because they’re both in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry”, says Posner.
With the Corona virus having spread throughout the US, American pharmaceutical companies effectively hold the government to ransom. They have managed to achieve this with little sign of public blow back. This is largely because they are able to garner public sympathy through patriotic imbued public relations campaigns that depict the Pharma industry as an extension of the state.
“The pharmaceutical companies are very clever at marketing. They spend more on promotion and advertisement than they spend sometimes on research in the lab so they’re able to plant stories or put advertisements out”, says Posner.
Although the author accepts that social media plays a part in terms of spreading fear to get the public primed to being vaccine dependent, he doesn’t buy into the idea that Big Pharma has to create fear through the prism of advertising and public relations in order to profit from it. Rather, Posner predicts that in order to boost their philanthropic credentials in the eyes of the public, the Pharma industry will direct their PR campaigns throughout the Third World.
In relation to any development of a Covid-19 vaccine, there are widespread concerns, including within the anti-vax community, about any possible side effects given the headlong rush for companies to discover one. The ability of people to freely travel from country to country, will depend on how successful they have been in nullifying it’s spread.
“When you talk to the Italians, they’ll have a very different view of this than maybe they have right now in Norway, where the deaths aren’t nearly as bad. People will be afraid of allowing those who don’t have a Covid-19 vaccine to come to areas where people are heavily vaccinated”, says Posner.
The author adds:
“I’ve already seen discussions about anti-vax saying there will be a secondary market in what will be the equivalent of saying you’ve had the vaccine and you’re approved even though you haven’t been. We’re entering the Wild West, as we would say in America. No one knows where this is going because it’s uncharted territory.”
The only certainty going forward is that the Pharma industry look set to continue putting their own self-interests ahead of public health by gaming the system. The best example of this is in the United States which passed an $8.3 billion emergency fund, $3 billion of which went straight to all the drug companies looking at vaccines.
“We give the drug companies an exclusive monopoly to sell. So not only do they take the public research and then put it out as a product to sell, we give them a patent on it so that nobody else can compete with that brand name for 17 to 20 years. And as a result, they can charge whatever price they want.”
The author believes that the media and public alike need to start asking rigorous questions about the behavior of pharmaceutical companies. “There should be no intellectual property rights on research for a Covid-19 vaccine. It should be available to anybody”, says Posner.
Now might be the right time for policy-makers and legislators to rethink intellectual property laws and patents in order to make them more receptive to contemporary social and health care needs.
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