Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Capitalists Gonna


Red Herring via Black Label Logic.

This is pretty disquieting, as reported by Jon Queally for Common Dreams (via Salon):

Asked to explain why not, Gates — whose massive fortune as founder of Microsoft relies largely on intellectual property laws that turned his software innovations into tens of billions of dollars in personal wealth — said: "Well, there's only so many vaccine factories in the world and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines. And so moving something that had never been done — moving a vaccine, say, from a [Johnson & Johnson] factory into a factory in India — it's novel — it's only because of our grants and expertise that that can happen at all."

The reference is to the Serum factory in India, the largest such institute in the country, which has contracts with AstraZeneca to manufacture their COVID-19 vaccine, known internationally as Covishield.

If he's sincere about the safety issue, it's not insanely stupid, like some kind of rube Republican who's surprised to learn that Sylvia's in Harlem has tablecloths. India's a poor country, and its pharmaceuticals industry hasn't been as well regulated as you might wish, though it's arguable that the worst problem in this regard isn't even in India but the United States, where the gutting of the FDA during the Trump administration has left the agency unable to maintain the inspection of Indian (and Chinese) exports to the US at anything like the needed level, as GAO reported last year, and the Covid crisis has made that a lot worse:

from fiscal year 2016 through 2018, both foreign and domestic inspections decreased—by about 10 percent and 13 percent, respectively. FDA officials attributed the decline, in part, to vacancies among investigators available to conduct inspections. In March 2020, FDA announced that, due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), it was postponing almost all inspections of foreign manufacturing establishments. While FDA has indicated it has other tools to ensure the safety of the U.S. drug supply, the lack of foreign inspections removes a critical source of information about the quality of drugs manufactured for the U.S. market.

Meanwhile India produces half the world's supply of generic drugs, in an industry currently valued at around $41 billion a year heading toward $65 billion by 2024 and $120 billion by 2030. In addition to generic products, India does offshore production for many multinational companies, including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson as well as AstraZeneca, but these only represent 35% of the market, down from over 70% in 1970. It exports vaccines in particular all over the world, including 80% of the world's DPT shots, under official approval from WHO, since 2013. India's Serum factory, the largest vaccine maker in the country, is already licensed to make AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine and doing it. It's not merely not "novel" for Johnson & Johnson to set up production facilities for its products in India, it's an essential part of the company's business plan that it's been doing for years. These huge companies are presumably manufacturing in India (and China) in order to save labor costs, and if they can't be trusted to make products for Indian consumption I don't know why we're allowing them to make them in India for our consumption here in the US.

For that matter, the main bottleneck in US efforts to donate vaccines to India in the current horrible situation is in the Emergent plant in Baltimore, where 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were ruined before the US shut down production of of that vaccine and the AstraZeneca (still not approved for US use) there earlier this month. Making it in India isn't likely to go worse than that.

On the other hand, Gates has an association with vaccine philanthropy encouraging vaccine monopolies that goes back to years before the Covid-19 pandemic:

Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), a Public-Private partnership (PPP) founded in 2000 after an initial pledge of $750 million by the BMGF, is today the most prominent force shaping the vaccine market in the Global south. Millions of dollars, not only of private philanthropic grants but also public money, have been transferred through this PPP to some of the largest corporations associated with the foundation.

The extent of public money flowing through this PPP is evident in the fact that 80% of GAVI’s finances are paid by donor states .  Only the remaining 20% are coughed up by private donors - mostly the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation which holds a permanent seat on the board of the alliance , along with UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank. Two seats on the board are reserved for representatives from the vaccine-manufacturing corporations, the remaining being held for limited time periods by independent individuals and representatives from governments and civil society organisations.

One of means through which GAVI finances distribution of pneumococcal vaccines is called Advance Market Commitment (AMC) - a system through which the UNICEF calls upon manufacturers for “a 10-year commitment to supply a share of the target demand of 200 million doses annually at a price no higher than $ 3.50 per dose”. This mechanism allows AMC-registered producers whose applications are approved to secure a market in developing countries for 10 years, with no threat of competition. (Grain, March 2018)

We really need to start talking about how the international intellectual property regime works, taking from  the individual scientist or creator and giving huge corporations and their shareholders (Taylor Swift's old label was appropriately Big Machine), even as defenders of the system romanticize the individuals and glorifying competition while favoring monopolies. IP as it is is called "intellectual", but it doesn't benefit intellectuals much, and it doesn't benefit the wider world much either, especially as long as if fights generic drugs. A new regime would certainly have to guarantee some kind of share of profits to the company that takes the risk on a novel or a new drug—I wouldn't advocate uncontrolled piracy. But this red herring Gates is throwing into the discussion doesn't deserve any attention at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment