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Patriotic Vaccines: The Divided Coronavirus Cause

When it comes to the politics of medicine and disease, the United States has always attempted to steal the limelight, while adding the now faded colouring of universal human welfare. In 1965, Washington pledged financial and technical support to the international effort to eradicate smallpox, though the initiative had initially been spurred by the Soviet Union at the behest of virologist and deputy health minister Victor Zhdanov in 1958. At that point in time, the World Health Organisation was not so much a punch bag as vehicle for US foreign policy, to be cultivated rather than rebuked.

As with the eradication of smallpox, a forced language of solidarity is coming into being with efforts to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. But behind it, there is backbiting and hostility, suspicion and paranoia. Like putting the first person on the moon, the matter is one of divided political endeavours.

One such effort of solidarity, and a not very convincing one at that, was made at this month’s Coronavirus Global Response Pledging Conference. The European Commission gave it a deceptively united title: “Joining forces to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics – on-line pledging event.” Representatives from 43 countries, a range of non-profit entities and scientific groups also added to the number.

Like fund drives that are common in the United States for public broadcasting, the efforts were billed as magisterial when they were, for the most part, modest. 7.4 million euros seems rather small fare when compared to the weighty global loss in life, limb and economy, though it looks a dream to coalface researchers. There was also a certain niggling anomaly in the event that took away some of its lustre. EU officials had permitted the pledging of money already spent on COVID-19 relief since January 30, making the raised amount more generous than it otherwise would have been. The United Kingdom was a case in point, having pledged £388 million toward a total as part of a prior pledge for £744 million. The EU bureaucrats for their part, have not been forthcoming how much in terms of new funding was pledged, making it difficult to spot the double-counters.

The language from the donors, however, was high sounding in hope. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen was flashily presuming in her rhetoric. “Today we can truly say the world is united against the coronavirus, and the world will win.” The world, she claimed grandly, had “showed extraordinary unity for the common good … With such commitment, we are on track for developing, producing and deploying a vaccine for all.”

The British Prime Minister and COVID-19 survivor Boris Johnson was also unduly optimistic in his assessment of such a worldly effort. “The race to discover the vaccine to defeat this virus is not a competition between countries but the most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes.”

To ensure that this does take place will take more than pooled pledges with vague lines of distribution. The entire effort to find a vaccine would need to be decentralised. An aide to French President Emmanuel Macron described the problem to Politico as ensuring “that the production of the vaccine does not end up taking place only in the US or in a specific place, because the companies that produce vaccines are from a certain nationality”.

But a full-blooded competition this is, spiked with considerations of self-interest. Former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb saw it in terms of a sporting race with a lucrative prize at the end. There is nothing of the cooperative or sharing spirit here, with Gottlieb seeing countries inoculating their own citizens first before sharing any supply with generous heart. “The first country to the finish line will be the first to restore its economy and global influence. America risks being second.” Given that Gottlieb is himself a board member of Pfizer and the biotech company Ilumina, a bit of hearty pandemic capitalism is bound to figure in his assessments.

The Trump administration had already signalled its intention to avoid any show of unity in the vaccine effort, which may suggest an unintentional expression of blunt honesty. It has frozen funding to the WHO and refused to send any representatives to a meeting organised by the organisation at a meeting, conducted virtually, last month. A spokesman for the US mission in Geneva told Reuters at the time that Washington “looked forward to learning more about this initiative in support of international cooperation to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as possible” but would not be participating in any official way. The response was much the same to the European Commission’s pledging conference.

For the Trump administration, finding a COVID-19 vaccine will, contrary to Johnson’s belief, be a predatory exercise in self-interest because other countries will, given the chance, treat it the same way. A neat, if vulgar example of this was given in March, when Die Welt reported that “large sums of money” had been offered by the administration for the German biopharmaceutical company CureVac, though former CEO Dan Menichella seemed to suggest that no definite offer was made in a meeting he had with the US president. Within that same month, Menichella had been replaced by the same man he replaced: founder Ingmar Hoerr.

In the messy rumble, billionaire Dietmar Hopp, who has an 80 per cent shareholding in CureVac via his biotech company Dievini has dismissed such ideas of exclusivity. No German company would entrust themselves with the task of creating such a vaccine that would be merely for exclusive US use. German health minister Jens Spahn was of like mind: any such vaccine would “not be for individual countries” but “for the whole world.”

This is stern and admirable stuff but not particularly convincing. The global patent system is marked by vicious rivalries rather than tea-ceremony tranquillity. The behaviour of its participants, according to the University of Hong Kong’s Bryan Mercurio, tends towards a winner takes all approach. “The rest of the efforts will go unrewarded.”

The fractious scramble for appropriate vaccines and viral drugs, as with other scrambles of history, serves to highlight the crude, even cruel reality of power politics, which proves stubborn even in the face of the existential and costly. This is pure Donald Trump, unilateral, instinctive and unromantic, with a reaction in keeping with previous thinking when it comes to international efforts of solidarity. Look more closely at them and see the sham; it’s every state for itself.

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8 comments

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  1. Jack Cade

    It appears that the current pandemic is due to a virus which has already undergone a number of mutations. Apparently the strain in NewYork is more vicious than the strain on the West Coast and there some infections in France before the Chinese infections (or until the Chinese admitted to them. Plus infections occurring several hundred miles South of Wuhan were from a different strain.
    I can’t even begin to understand what is going on; but as an agnostic, I am more than mildly amused that people who believe not only in God but that he, she or it actually gives a toss, can scoff at the idea of a Mother Nature finally losing patience with the utterly abhorrent and largely evil human race.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Trump wants a vaccine to be discovered in the US so he can take the credit and use it in his re-election campaign.

    If it is and he does, someone should point out that he cared little about the 80,000 deaths under his watch.

  3. Jack Cade

    If the virus mutates at the rate that it seems to be mutating now, any vaccine would need to be mutated at the same rate and administered almost constantly. Flu changes annually, and the vaccine changes to boot. So getting an effective vaccine won’t be as easy as the other viruses we have conquered. That won’t stop big pharma from lying about it – we already know that big pharma deliberately makes its products only partially effective because ‘…an absolute cure interferes with our revenue stream.’

  4. Michael Taylor

    Jack, they need to ensure that the vaccine is fully tested before it’s let loose in the public. They won’t, of course.

    Full testing can take years, but people aren’t going to take that long.

    Many vaccines can have severe consequences if not properly tested. For that reason I suggest they trial any new vaccine on Crows supporters.

  5. Jack Cade

    Michael

    With bleach injections as a control…

  6. jaq

    Agreed Jack. Mother Nature= ” Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. She is out for blood.

  7. wam

    you would like to imagine that there are no australians who would agree with trump’s america and withhold a vaccine for maximum economic advantage and profit.
    I have yet to meet anyone with that size an imagination. Indeed few would laugh at the thought of anyone silly enoughh to pass up the chance of a lifetime.
    ps
    jesus is my vaccine against god’s virus??

  8. Walter

    Binoy, small wonder massive dudes like those @ Big Pharma think patriotic vaccines are a solution.
    Exhibit A: ‘Operation Warp Drive’, a plan to have a new vaccine in you by Jan 2021
    From a recent series of ‘Conflict of Interest’ interviews with former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, “And so what you would do is deploy the vaccine in the setting of an outbreak in a city to both test whether it’s safe and effective. So you’re continuing to study it, but you’re also using it potentially therapeutically to ring fence an outbreak.” – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/transcript-scott-gottlieb-discusses-coronavirus-on-face-the-nation-may-3-2020/
    Got that? There is no need to pre-test vaccines on animals and follow up with a 12 month trail on volunteers. Instead, ‘ring fence’ outbreaks, force injections into your chosen victims with an untested vaccine, then sit back and see if it works, or not.
    Is Gottlieb channelling Goebels, you decide.
    BTW, how did you write an article about vaccines in the USA without mentioning the WHO’s sugar daddy, Bill Gates? Bill and the WHO’s legacy (ssshh) leaves much to be desired. https://www.globalresearch.ca/gates-globalist-vaccine-agenda-win-win-pharma-mandatory-vaccination/5709493

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