The COVID vaccines were an international race. Many countries and companies competed. The Uni of Queensland one fell over because it made the AIDS test a false positive. There are now 5 principal ones in the media; Pfizer from Germany, Astra-Zeneca/Oxford from the UK, Moderna from the USA, Sputnik 5 from Russia, and Sinovac from China. Over here we ignore the two from Russia and China, for some reason. Do we not trust them, are we just racist, or do we want to support Big Pharma in ‘The West’?
I recently met with some medical sceptics, who said that there is no public proof that the vaccine works, i.e. published papers. I said that it was in the media that there had been a 43,000 person trial with not very many side effects. They conceded that this was correct, but pointed out that you could inject water into 43,000 people with few side effects, and that it was a question of how many of the 43,000 had been exposed to the virus, compared to a group of 43,000 in the same environment who had not been vaccinated. And you could not ask a volunteer who had just had the vaccine to cuddle up to a COVID case- that would be foolhardy. Their key point was that all the data was still in the drug companies’ hands and not publicly available. Presumably the regulatory authorities have it, and hopefully they are still being rigorous under the pressure. We have to assume the vaccines work as we need to open up the world economy.
Our government promised a fortune to these companies before they even had a product to sell, and all the bluster about having an equal world in terms of vaccine access does not seem to have dollars attached. At present there is not enough vaccine to go around, but it still matters where you start. Logically, vaccinating Australians where there is very little infection would likely save fewer lives than vaccinating people where the virus is rampant.
I have told the story before about Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine with public funds and did not patent it so that the maximum amount of vaccine could be distributed to rid the world of polio. This was in sharp contrast to Glaxo, the drug company, which found that an old unpatented drug worked against AIDS, patented it and then insisted that the price of it be at least $US2 a day, although an Indian company said that they could produce it for 7 cents. The result was several million extra AIDS cases in Africa.
Sadly the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil was a similar story. HPV was found to be the cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine was developed at Uni of Queensland by Prof Ian Frazer, and then marketed by CSL and Merck. Its roll out was considerably delayed by its cost, despite the fact that the Uni of Qld declined to insist on royalties from sales in developing countries. It is still $73 a shot in Australia (2 needed, 3 recommended), though our government makes it free to Australian schoolchildren.
This article says that the Coronavirus vaccines will worsen inequalities. This is true, because not only will poorer countries not be able to afford the vaccine, they will also have more people die and have higher health costs as they will have to treat the cases. It will also have a bigger impact on their economies. The fine rhetoric about sharing world knowledge will certainly be tested. It might be noted that the Chinese released the draft genome of the Coronavirus to the world in January 2020 (Sciencemag.org) in the interest of stopping the outbreak, which was a credit to China and gives credence to their vaccine. On the other hand, I seem to recall that Pfizer declined to be involved in information sharing, but have been unable to find the reference for this.
Pfizer did not get public funding but their development partner, BioNTech, did. The question is how much profit will there be in all this, and how much will the price stop poorer countries getting the vaccine.
The fact that governments no longer fund the research directly and go into ‘private-public partnerships’ gives rise to the feeling that governments put in the funds but the private partners both determine the priorities in research with a bias towards research that can make a profit and then make that profit. The governments then either largely fund the profit, or leave their populations unable to benefit from the research that they as taxpayers funded.
I have two relevant articles on this, one below, and one coming shortly.