If ever we find a Covid-19 vaccine, it won’t just be the academics and pharmaceutical giants leading the search we have to thank. It will also be down to all the funding provided by governments and global charities. Public-private organisations such as Gavi (the global vaccine alliance, supported by the WHO and the Gates Foundation) and Cepi (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) have given drug companies over $4.4bn to help them beat Covid-19. Yet despite these huge subsidies, drug firms still charge what they want for the final product.
In 2009, a pneumonia vaccine created with the aid of $1.5bn in Gavi funding was so expensive that low-income countries couldn’t pay for it. And AstraZeneca has received £84m in government funds to help develop a Covid-19 vaccine, yet still owns the intellectual property rights, can dictate the price, and won’t share research data with a WHO initiative to pool Covid-19 knowledge. The drugs market is a market crying out for more state control. “Medicines are a human necessity, not a profit-making machine.” (Kenan Malik, The Observer, also carried in The Week, 13 June 2020)
My comment: Healthcare is a human right, not a type of grocery. Yes, developing an anti-covid vaccine is a risky and expensive business, and a disaster if you get it wrong and kill people. But if taxpayer money goes into development there is absolutely no case for the developer to capture all the profits and remain unaccountable.
I used to be a product manager for a major pharmaceutical company. Among my products was the Ventolin inhaler. The cost of production was about ten percent of the average selling price. That was 50 years ago. Presumably the product stopped being a monopoly item years ago. But the Ventolin inhaler is still being used on a daily basis, especially at this time of year. I have no idea of the current cost structure of the product, but can make an intelligent guess. (Ventolin was not developed using public money, as far as I know). My point is that this particular product has been a honeypot for decades. If you are going to benefit in this way and if the development costs are paid for by the taxpayer ( as the covid research and development is being paid for by the taxpayer), then the government should have the monopoly rights to it while the monopoly is extant. The system is stacked in favor of the companies, not the public or the patients. This is not right.