A third of the world’s population has still to receive even one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, thanks to the hoarding of vaccines by rich nations, vaccine nationalism, profiteering by big pharma, hurdles put in the use of affordable Indian vaccines.
BIG MONOPOLIES: Big pharma refers to the global pharmaceutical giants. The United States has six of the 10 largest pharmaceutical companies globally and accounts for 45% of global $1.6 trillion pharma revenue. Government, international, educational, research, and philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation fund most drug discovery research, followed by further development, testing, manufacturing, and marketing by pharmaceutical companies. The profits then accrue to the companies rather than to those who developed it or the public funding agencies. The profits are used to take over smaller companies with promising new drugs and patents. Patents help monopolise the most profitable specialty drug groups like cancer chemotherapy. During this pandemic, vaccine patents were not waived and were used to monopolise and profit from a human crisis. Drug patents are often extended with claims of minor modifications. These companies eventually grow so big that they are bigger than the GDP of most nations just like “Big tech” companies and force nations to accept their terms and conditions.
BIG PROFITS: Big pharma is often found profiteering at the cost of suffering humanity by using litigation, and financial heft to lobby governments, regulatory bodies, and media to block and defame any competition, especially cheaper generic alternatives and biosimilars. Delayed recognition by WHO and disinformation campaigns against Indian Covid-19 vaccines and drugs are recent examples of this. Covid-19 drugs and vaccines have given a massive boost to Pfizer and Moderna profits. The US Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 prevents the government from controlling the high price of US prescription drugs. Branded drugs are the second largest US export next only to oil and gas exports of Big Oil. In sharp contrast, Drug Price Control Orders (DPCO) under the Essential Commodities Act 1955, enable the Indian government to declare a ceiling price for essential and lifesaving drugs and vaccines. “Big Heart” India, the pharmacy to the world provides affordable drugs and vaccines to humanity and played a stellar role in helping control HIV/AIDS and this pandemic.
BIG CONTROVERSIES: Myths and conspiracy theories abound about Covid-19 and vaccines. Companies have been accused of influencing or falsifying trial results by putting profits before safety and efficacy. The vaccine controversy is about the efficacy and long-term safety of mRNA vaccines and the arm-twisting by Pfizer to market it. The mRNA and DNA vaccines introduce copies of viral genetic material to get our cells to produce viral antigens which then stimulate our immune system against these viruses. This technique has never been used for human vaccine production and has been rushed through emergency approvals and we do not know the long-term effects and problems with it. The other vaccines are based on well-known and studied techniques using an inactivated virus or parts of it or modified adenoviruses. Pfizer mRNA vaccine has been reported to cause heart problems due to Myocarditis and Johnson & Johnson viral vector vaccine has been reported to cause blood clots. These are reported to be within acceptable limits and have not been reported with Indian vaccines. In reply to a Right to Information (RTI) query recently, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) listed various side effects reported following over 2.2 billion vaccine doses administered in India, most of which were symptoms of a good immune response. The rare reports of serious adverse events were related to certain predisposing comorbid conditions.
A third of the world’s population has still to receive even one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, thanks to the hoarding of vaccines by rich nations, vaccine nationalism, profiteering by big pharma, hurdles put in the use of affordable Indian vaccines by China’s CCP to promote ineffective Chinese vaccines and vaccine hesitancy due to all the media controversies about efficacy and safety of vaccines.
SELF-RESPECT NEEDED TO GAIN GLOBAL RESPECT: Too many Indians still have a colonial mindset even more than 75 years after Independence. Any western product, culture, practice, or trend is considered superior. If we don’t respect our research products, how can we expect others to respect them? Many Indians went abroad for expensive US mRNA vaccines in preference to safer, more effective Indian vaccines. WHO hurriedly approved Chinese and western vaccines but under pressure from their lobbies kept delaying the approval of Indian vaccines. This delayed global recognition of Indian vaccines and verifiable digital Indian vaccination certificates. It is to be seen how long WHO takes to recognise the revolutionary Indian nasal vaccine. Many Indian politicians and media persons cast aspersions on Indian vaccines as “Modi vaccines” and have tried to pressurise the government to accept Pfizer’s totally unacceptable terms and conditions of sovereign immunity and guarantee for a very expensive vaccine that needs impractical storage and logistics. It is high time we stop politicising health, food, and other essentials and respect our researchers, service providers, manufacturers, and Indian products and produce.
Dr P.S.Venkatesh Rao is Consultant Endocrine, Breast & Laparoscopic Surgeon, in Bengaluru.