“The U.S. capitalist rulers and their government should be compelled to rapidly expand the production and distribution of enough vaccines to immunize billions of working people around the world against COVID-19,” Malcolm Jarrett, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh, told the Militant Oct. 25.
“But pharmaceutical bosses, backed by their governments, are driven to maximize profits, which means a vaccine shortage with deadly results,” Jarrett said.
Moderna, Pfizer and other capitalist pharmaceutical companies were granted gigantic handouts by Washington as they rushed to capture vaccine markets. Their ownership of vaccine patents has guaranteed their monopoly and blocked the urgent manufacture and distribution of medicines worldwide.
“They claimed these scientific developments as their own private property, not a conquest that should be placed at the service of humanity,” said Jarrett. “Our unions and other working-class organizations should fight to force these companies to make their products and know-how available worldwide.”
Only a tiny fraction of vaccines have been provided to the least developed capitalist countries in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, often at exorbitant prices. Of the 200 governments that started vaccination programs before Oct. 25, the seven slowest have vaccinated only 1% of the population. Five of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. The other two are Haiti and war-ravaged Yemen.
Under former President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, Moderna was backed with government scientific cooperation to develop its mRNA technology. It received federal grants of $2.5 billion for everything from development to clinical trials. The U.S. government pre-ordered $1.5 billion of its shots, ensuring company owners a guaranteed market.
By concentrating its supplies almost exclusively in advanced capitalist countries and defending its patent monopoly against competitors, Moderna is reaping billions. It expects $20 billion in revenue this year, making its vaccine one of the most lucrative medical products in history.
Question is which class rules
“This is the character of the entire medical system in the U.S. — to generate profits for a handful, not to provide health care. To change this requires changing what class rules this country,” Jarrett said.
Moderna and rival manufacturers like Pfizer are using their monopoly to charge premium rates to countries in the semicolonial world, where the cost of the drug is out of reach for millions. In effect they are delaying vaccine distribution and extending the length of the pandemic in order to uphold their grip on markets and profits.
The U.S. government paid $15 or more for each dose, which it dispenses without cost. Moderna is selling a limited supply at a premium rate to less industrialized countries. It charged the governments of Botswana, Thailand and Colombia nearly double the U.S. price.
Both Moderna and Pfizer are defending their patents on the ground-breaking mRNA technology because there is a wide range of possible — and highly profitable — future medical applications that can be developed utilizing the know-how.
Dr. Tom Frieden, a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, admitted that these companies are “behaving as if they have absolutely no responsibility beyond maximizing the return on investment.” In fact, like all capitalists, they act on their “responsibility” to advance their interests at the expense of working people.
In response to the slowing rate of vaccinations in the U.S., President Joseph Biden imposed a mandate, giving bosses the power to fire workers who refuse to get vaccinated, including health care workers and most federal employees.
“The Socialist Workers Party urges all workers to get vaccinated. We urge our unions to open their facilities and fight to maximize vaccinations,” Jarrett said. “But we oppose all mandates. They open the door for the capitalist rulers to impose other mandatory restrictions on working people — a threat to our rights and our ability to fight against exploitation and oppression.”
Covax, the World Health Organization project backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a number of governments, claims it will ensure the global distribution of vaccines. But it’s on course to fall way short of its claim to distribute 2 billion doses by the end of this year. So far Covax has shipped only 371 million.
WHO officials said that only 15% of vaccinations promised for delivery to the semicolonial world had been sent. Africa, with 17% of the planet’s population, has less than 1% of the world’s vaccine manufacturing capacity.
As a result, the pandemic could “easily drag on deep into 2022,” said senior WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward.
The U.S. rulers’ decadeslong embargo of Cuba has had a serious impact on that country’s ability to buy or produce medications. Nonetheless, health care remains free and universally available. Some 99% of Cuba’s population down to 2-year olds have received the first shot as of Oct. 14. Havana plans to have the entire population vaccinated by the end of the year.
The Cuban government mobilized medical workers and volunteers to achieve the fastest weekly vaccination rate of any country in the world.
Cuba is the first Latin American country to have developed and produced not just one but three COVID vaccines. One is being exported to Vietnam and Venezuela while another is being manufactured in Iran.
“This continues a proud internationalist record made possible because workers and farmers in Cuba took power in 1959 and made a socialist revolution,” Jarrett, said. “They have wielded it ever since for the benefit of not just Cubans, but for all humanity.”