In recent weeks there has been many articles noting the enormous wealth that a small number of people have made from vaccines and treatments developed to control the pandemic. Many see this as an unfortunate result of our efforts to contain the pandemic. From this point of view, containing the pandemic is an extremely important goal, if some people become incredibly rich as a result, it is a price worth paying. After all, we may even be able to tax some of their wealth after the fact.

The infuriating part of this story is that it obviously isn’t true. But, just as the followers of Donald Trump are ready to believe any crazy story he tells about the stolen election, our intellectual types are ready to accept the idea that the only way we could have gotten vaccines as quickly as we did was to grant a small number of patent monopolies to businesses and individuals. And, just as no evidence can dissuade the Trumpers from believing that their man actually won the election, it is not possible to involve most people in political debates to consider the possibility that we don’t need patent monopolies to finance drug development. or vaccines.

This is particularly worrying in the case of the current crop of vaccines developed in the United States and Europe. The development of mRNA technology has been overwhelming the public’s dime. It is hardly a secret. In fact, the NIH has one of the key patents Moderna used in the development of its vaccine.

The New York Times even recently published a room highlighting the work of Dr. Kato Kariko, who she says has spent her entire career working on government grants and never earned more than $ 60,000 per year. Of course, it’s reasonable to pay top researchers like Dr Kariko considerably over $ 60,000 a year, but the point is that researchers can be motivated by money (as well as committing many to help mankind), they don’t need government-granted patent monopolies.

The development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was also funded almost entirely with public money. AstraZeneca was indeed hired as a partner after the fact, under the leadership of Bill Gates. The vaccine itself was developed by a team of researchers from Oxford.

In the case of the mRNA vaccines and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, we could have just contracted with the companies to do the job, we didn’t have to give them a monopoly on patents. If this sounds strange to you, go outside and look at the street in front of your house. The company that paved the street was paid on a contract with the government, it did not get a monopoly on patents on the street.

For some reason, we can’t even get a serious discussion in political circles about alternatives to patent monopolies to fund drug and vaccine development. In my opinion, we should look everywhere for alternatives to patent and copyright monopolies as government funding mechanisms, but the arguments for alternatives are particularly compelling in the case of biomedical research.[1]

The problem with biomedical research is that the exclusive nature of knowledge, coupled with the huge incentive to sell products at prices protected by patents, is a huge invitation to corruption. The most dramatic example of this problem is that of the opioid crisis, where the major manufacturers have billions of dollars in regulations based on the claim that they have deliberately misled doctors and the general public about the addictiveness of the new generation of opioids. If OxyContin and other opioids had been sold as cheap generics, there would have been little incentive to lie about their addiction. And, of course, if all clinical trial results were fully public, there was no way they could have been lying.

There is also the problem with the drugs that the government or private insurers, regulated by the government, bear the vast majority of the bill. For this reason, who does not have to worry about direct government funding for research that takes precedence over individual consumer decisions, as might be the case with items like cars or smartphones. The demand for a particular drug is already not determined by individuals, so there is nothing to spoof.

The great fortunes created by patent and copyright monopolies go far beyond the current crop of Covid vaccine billionaires. There are many people who have become extremely wealthy by developing software and other information technologies, medical equipment, and genetically modified plants, as a result of patent or copyright monopolies. Bill Gates volunteered to be the star kid here.

While many of the contributions these wealthy made have been socially valuable, we must recognize that the rewards they received were a political choice. We could have shortened and / or weakened their monopolies on patents and copyright. We could also have relied more on direct funding for open source research.

This is a basic logical point. Patent and copyright monopolies are not given by God, not even by the constitution (come on Lily Article 1, paragraph 8). We can structure them as we want and we can integrate them into other research support mechanisms. Our decision to structure patent and copyright monopolies in a way that allows a small number of people to become incredibly rich is due to the fact that we have politicians who like very rich people.

There is nothing inherent in the market or any technological requirement that demands this result. And, this result is vindicated by economists and journalists who are too lazy or incompetent to think for themselves. Like any good Trumper, they repeat what they are told.

Vaccine failure during the pandemic

Despite celebrating the success of our vaccines in controlling the spread of the virus among people who contract them, we have done a terrible job of vaccinating the world. At this point, Africa, which has more than 15 percent of the world’s population, has received only 1.7 percent of vaccines in the world. The situation in much of Latin America is not much better, as it is in some of the poorest countries in Asia. India of course suffers terribly from a vaccine shortage, even though it is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and has a vaccine that it has developed itself.

China was able distribute 460 million vaccines nationally, over the past month. This is in addition to the delivery of tens of millions of additional doses to countries around the world. At this rate, it will be able to produce enough vaccines to cover most of the world’s unvaccinated population by early 2022. In contrast, our experts insist that we probably cannot manufacture the US-European vaccines. faster than we already are, even as we suspend patent protections and share technology. In fact. Thomas Cueni, the director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, insists that we cannot even produce items such as syringes and vials that are needed to distribute vaccines. (This statement can be found at 21.10 here.)

The implication is that Chinese scientists and engineers must be much more proficient than those in the United States. (I realize that mRNA vaccines are more effective, but Chinese vaccines have been very effective in bringing the pandemic under control in countries where they have been widely distributed, such as Serbia and Hungary.) It’s a shame that we let’s have such mediocre people. in charge of our efforts to fight the pandemic. (Bill Gates played a leading role with his foundation.) Maybe next time we should outsource the work to China.

[1] I address this issue in Chapter 5 of Rigged (it’s free).

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