The Race for the Vaccine

By Pasqualina Curcio on August 10, 2020

It’s encouraging to know that more than 160 research projects are competing rapidly to find a vaccine against COVID-19, according to the latest report from the World Health Organization (WHO).  Experts say that the pace of development and progress in the clinical trials is impressive.  They state that what in other cases might have required years has now only required months.  There are those who say that at the end of the year 2020 humanity will have this ardently longed-for vaccine available.

The research protocols for any type of medication must include three phases of clinical trials.  According to the most recent WHO report, published July 31, there are six leaders in the vaccine race, with their vaccine already in phase three.  These are: Oxford University together with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca; the Chinese company SinoVac; The Institute of Biological Studies of Wuhan with Sinopharm (the Chinese national pharmaceutical group); The Institute of Biological Studies of Beijing, also with Sinopharm Group; the U.S. company Moderna jointly with The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer together with the German BioNTech and the Chinese Fosun Pharma.

Why a vaccine?  Why the race?

This race to produce a vaccine is not surprising.  COVID-19, unlike other diseases, has special aspects that offer great incentives to the pharmaceutical-industrial- financial complex to invest major resources in research and development for a vaccine.

In the first place, unlike, for example, diabetes, COVID-19 is contagious.  In spite of the fact that diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the world, with about 422 million people affected annually and with diabetes directly causing the death of about 1.6 million people per year, we still have no cure or preventive treatment.

The reproduction number (R0) or average number of people who will contract the disease from one infected person is 5.7 for COVID-19, according to recent studies.  One person with the disease will on average communicate it to 6 others.  Diseases like measles, for example, which is highly contagious; (at 12 – 18) has a preventive vaccine, as does small-pox, now eradicated by vaccination, with a reproduction number of between 3 and 6.  Influenza, for which vaccines are available, has an R0 of 2.8.

In the second place, COVID-19 is a relatively lethal disease, with a death rate rising to about 3.83%, which is to say that, of each 100 people infected worldwide, about four will die.  The death rate for influenza is .01% and for measles 1.1%.  For smallpox, the death rate was from 30% up to 95% for the hemorrhagic form.

There is a third factor that has even greater weight for the speed-demons of the pharmaceutical industry in the race for a vaccine, and it is that COVID-19 cannot become chronic.  Research is oriented toward a vaccine to prevent infection and not a palliative treatment that maintains a person dependent on medication for the rest of their life, as is the case with diabetes or HIVAIDS.  In these two cases, the industry has invested in the research for medications not to cure, nor to prevent, but to palliate the symptoms of the disease.  The WHO estimates that 38 million people have HIV/AIDS and that 33 million have died from this disease.  In 2019 alone, 690,000 people have died, and 1.7 million have been infected.  It has become a chronic illness, and by finding a preventive vaccine, the pharmaceutical industry would lose at least 250,000 million dollars between now and 2050.  It’s a business decision.

In the COVID-19 situation, there is a fourth factor, and that is the effects on the world economy due to confinement.  According to the estimates of the World Bank, the economy will contract 5.2% in 2020, the worst recession since the Second World War.  World commerce will contract somewhere between 13% and 32% and tourism may decrease between 60% and 80%.  This situation has business repercussions and also affects the pocketbook of the great capitalists ( while others such as Bezos are making a killing from the pandemic).

The Vaccine as a Business

To stimulate the development of a vaccine against COVID-19 and finance the research,

CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness) along with GAVI (The Vaccine Alliance) and the WHO created the COVAX initiative.  Whether or not by coincidence, CEPI was created in 2017 at the World Economic forum in Davos, where the world’s great businesses gathered.  The source of the financing are public funds and private philanthropic funds, including those of the World Bank.  What moves this group is what we can read on their web site: “the introduction of a vaccine will prevent the loss of 375 billion dollars from the global economy each month.”

So that everything is kept in the family, it is CEPI that is financing the U.S. company Moderna, which we listed as one of the companies currently with a vaccine in phase three of clinical trials. They were given 2 billion dollars to cover the costs of the project. And that’s not all: this business forms part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) directed by Anthony Fauci.  In addition, although the research was helped by donations, the announcement has already been made that the vaccine, once it exists, will cost $30 per dose and requires 2 doses for a total of $60.

Oxford University and AstraZeneca, also in phase 3, have announced that the price of their vaccine will only cover the costs, about 2.5 Euros for each dose, for a single dose vaccine. We can do the math regarding the earnings of U.S. Moderna in this vaccine business.  What has become of the philanthropy of CEPI, GAVI, and COVAX?

The Chinese, with two projects in phase 3 of clinical trials, have announced that once they develop the vaccine it will be universally available and free.  The Russians have said the same.  According to the latest WHO report, the Gamaleya Research Institute of Russia has their project in phase 1 of clinical trials.

In any case, the vaccine should be available to all and free. There are no intellectual property rights or patents that are valid in this situation.

In the WTO meeting held in Doha in 2001, it was agreed that “We affirm that this Agreement (regarding patents) can and should be interpreted and applied in a manner that supports the right of protecting public health, and, in particular, of promoting access to medications for all. .. In this regard, the Doha Declaration enshrines the principles WHO has publicly advocated and advanced over the years, namely the re-affirmation of the right of WTO Members to make full use of the safeguard provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in order to protect public health and enhance access to medicines for poor countries.” 

What greater need to protect public health and guarantee access to medicines for all could there possibly be than this world health emergency officially declared by the WHO since January of this year, which has become a pandemic?

Source: Ultimas Noticias, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North American bureau