I am writing in response to the June 3 opinion piece put forth by Michael Oates of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation (HVEDC) with regards to the temporary waiving of the COVID-19 …
I am writing in response to the June 3 opinion piece put forth by Michael Oates of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation (HVEDC) with regards to the temporary waiving of the COVID-19 patents that our taxpayer dollars created. I agree that the sharing of patents, technologies to produce vaccines and the necessary financing for vaccines and PPE to be produced and shared worldwide should not be a partisan issue. It is truly unfortunate that pharmaceutical companies do not have the humanity to do the right thing. The idea that other peoples cannot produce mRNA vaccines is laughable, especially since BioNTech/Pfizer has contracted with the Chinese firm Fosun to produce their vaccine. Chinese entities have already produced two mRNA-type vaccines, and the largest vaccine producer in the world is the Serum Institute of India.
Oates calls for a “controlled and coordinated approach.” I agree. It can be done under the auspices of the WTO and the WHO in much the same way we coordinate what strains to put into annual flu shots. Time is of the essence. If we do not move on this now to get all of humanity vaccinated, we will be fighting mutations for years. Every year, we will need boosters that the industry will gladly provide us—for a price. I also agree that the pandemic has only shown to us how multinational pharmaceutical companies have offshored the production of therapeutic drugs and PPE. This is a national security issue that the industry needs to take responsibility for and correct. Bring the supply chains for all medicines back home—now.
Oates asks why investors would pour money into drug research if they felt their investments would be undermined by our government. But investors did not pour money into COVID-19 vaccines. We, the people, did through Operation Warp Speed. We gave pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars. We are the investors. And a temporary WTO waiver would not free governments and firms from paying royalties or providing other compensation to pharmaceutical companies under their national laws.
Oates goes on to mention several industry-backed organizations working hard to prevent the sharing of what is needed to vaccinate humanity. I joined in signing a letter to President Biden to advocate for the ending of the global pandemic along with over 400 organizations such as Doctors without Borders, Human Rights Watch as well as churches and labor unions.
The world needs to produce 15 billion-plus COVID-19 shots! Certainly, there is enough money for Oates’ industry-backed organizations to make in the production of this amount of vaccine. When pharmaceutical companies who benefited from Operation Warp Speed lobby our Congress and Administration to try to put the brakes on protecting the rest of humanity, it will bite us, the taxpayers, in the butt when we have to pay for the long-term effects of the pandemic and continual production of boosters. Enabling vaccine production for humanity, producing PPE and therapeutics only improves our relations with other peoples and our international alliances and foreign policy. Perhaps the temporary removal of patent protections might not produce more vaccines—but we will never know if industry obstacles are not removed, will we? As the opioid crisis has proven, pharmaceutical companies do not have a good track record in protecting humanity.
Greed is not good. We need to do what is necessary to get shots in arms. Big Pharm, get out of the way of those who are doing the right thing.
Helen Beichel is the president of Fattail Financial Advisory Group and a member of the International Trade Education Squad of the Park Slope Food Coop. She lives part-time in Cochecton, NY.