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(en) France, UCL AL #313 - Politics, Coronavirus: Public health but private vaccines (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Sat, 13 Feb 2021 09:23:40 +0200

Vaccines against the coronavirus are the subject of fierce competition between private companies, the consequences of which on the health of populations are considerable: approval under pressure, job cuts and reduction in production capacities ... the irrationality of the market contributes to the current shortage. How to make vaccines a common good of humanity? ---- Pfizer and BioNTech announced on November 9 that they had an effective vaccine. A ridiculous shallot race ensued with Moderna regarding the effectiveness of their respective vaccines. But what is less funny is that while this vaccine was not yet scientifically validated[1], behind the scenes these companies raised the stakes with the governments, which in turn wanted to have these vaccines approved. as soon as possible.

Thus, e-mail exchanges revealed by Le Monde[2]show the pressure put by the European Commission on the European Medicines Agency. It had in particular pointed out the difference between the batches of vaccines used in clinical trials and those intended for commerce. The problem seems to have been resolved since, but this example shows that these precautions are not a matter of "bureaucracy", but of the normal functioning of approving a new treatment.

Conversely, the United Kingdom validated the vaccine on December 2, so without even waiting for an independent scientific opinion from Pfizer-BioNTech, or worrying about the reservations made by the European Medicines Agency.

The government manages the shortage
Opaque negotiations followed. Vaccine prices were inadvertently revealed on December 17, showing a large disparity between them. Embarrassment on the part of the European Commission, which had conceded firms the secret of the prices charged, so that they can negotiate upward in other countries. The European Union was able to limit the damage by negotiating jointly until Germany alone orders vaccines in the face of the announced shortage.

Shortage which arranges the firms and allows them to raise the prices. The developing countries, which can not compete in this escalation, are the big forgotten ones of this vaccination campaign.

The French government finds itself managing the consequences of this system based only on the race for profit. He had probably bet on the Sanofi vaccine, which unsurprisingly is a failure given the dismantling of its labs (see below). He is now announcing a vaccination campaign for all "fragile" people and caregivers, ie two doses to be administered to 6.4 million people. But at the other end, Pfizer is talking about restructuring its production to be able to deliver 500,000 doses per week in France. Even with Moderna or even AstraZeneca vaccines as a supplement, we see that this will not be enough.

We could therefore discuss the inability of regional health agencies to organize the campaign, the use of four private consulting firms, or the problems that a "vaccination passport" would pose, but the main concern today is the shortage of vaccines. Thus, the Assistance publique-Hôpitaux de Paris has decided to drastically reduce the vaccination of caregivers to redirect the stocks to those over 75 years of age. Again, we have to make choices that we shouldn't have to make.

Requisition production lines
At the same time, the scientific council estimates in its report of January 12 that the English variant, 50% more contagious, will become dominant in March in France. Current vaccines appear to be effective against this variant. A successful vaccination campaign by this date could, according to him, reduce the peak of hospitalizations by 44%, thus saving thousands of people.

Finally, it should be remembered that we do not yet know whether the vaccine stops or attenuates contagiousness: a vaccinated person will be protected against serious forms of the virus, but could still be contagious, like asymptomatic people. So not sure that these vaccines will be the sesame towards deconfinement.

It is therefore logical to have given priority to "fragile" people. And we must continue to assert our rights to be protected: access to masks, teleworking if possible, facilities to go into isolation if necessary, etc.

To put an end to this logic of profit, the consequences of which are heavy for our health, the Libertarian Communist Union calls for the socialization of the pharmaceutical industries[3]. Nationalization is indeed insufficient to completely remove this industry from the law of the market, and has been used several times in the past to bail out companies, before re-privatizing them.

To move towards this socialization, vaccines must now become common goods of humanity. We must put an end to trade secrets: transparency must be complete on negotiations and prices, scientific results and patents must be made available. Finally, the production lines must immediately be requisitioned to produce the vaccines. In France, this is possible via the health emergency law: the government refuses to do so only to preserve the profits of Sanofi and its hypothetical vaccine.

Sanofi must be socialized
On May 13, Sanofi announced that the United States would be first served as soon as a vaccine was available. Following this, Macron announced with great fanfare that the group would open a new factory in France, and that the State would allocate it 200 million euros for the search for a vaccine. This amount is in addition to the billions of euros affected by Sanofi in recent years, in particular via the research tax credit. Ten days later, Sanofi announced the cuts of 1,000 jobs in France, including 400 in research and development.

Remember that dividends paid to shareholders of Sanofi in April were 4 billion euros, the price of 235 million doses of vaccine, or 200,000 jobs at minimum wage. In its great kindness, the group has created a fund of 100 million euros for public hospitals and nursing homes. Sanofi only knows the logic of profit. They therefore close their research labs, an investment deemed too risky, or else affiliate them.

As for production, it is relocated to India or China, and focuses on the most profitable drugs. Consequence: drug shortages have multiplied by twenty in ten years.

This logic of profit is also at the origin of health scandals: Mediator, Dépakine. How can we be surprised at the mistrust of vaccines, when the first reason put forward to explain this mistrust is the lack of confidence in pharmaceutical companies? It is high time to socialize this company, before all knowledge and production on drugs is lost.

Grégoire (UCL Orleans)

Logo copyright: Photothèque Rouge / Martin Noda / Hans Lucas.


[1] A scientific article, reviewed and validated by other independent scientists from Pfizer and BioNTech, was not published until December 10.

[2] "What the documents say about the anti-Covid-19 vaccines stolen from the European Medicines Agency", Le Monde , January 16, 2021.

[3] "Pharmaceutical industry: how we can socialize it", Alternative libertaire , May 2020.

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