Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – Public Citizen recently uncovered “an agreement that the European Commission reached with Pfizer and BioNTech last November to purchase 100 million doses of the companies’ mRNA vaccine, which was developed with the support of https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-09/pfizer-vaccine-s-funding-came-from-berlin-not-washington”> government funding and U.S. taxpayer-financed technology.
In the 104-page contract, Public Citizen found a list of manufacturing specifications for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, including particular composition and strength, identity, and purity requirements followed throughout the production process.
Public Citizen’s website says, “This info can help mRNA vaccine scientists by illustrating the kinds of requirements they need to meet critical quality standards,” Such agreements have a widely recognized ability to enhance the parties’ market power, but less attention is paid to the effects on the direction of scientific research.
Public Citizen discovered is that safe and effective vaccines are more than individual accomplishments. Not only is the basic research publically financed, the process of converting it to a product safe for human consumption is dependent on a complex manufacturing infrastructure of quality control and trained personnel to operate that infrastructure.
Recognizing that vaccines are social products, both basic formula and technical specifications, argues not only for suspending or revoking patent protection but equally important sharing technological know how. Currently much scientific research is conducted behind a screen of corporate control, out of concern that sharing may weaken any patent claim.
Patent monopolies and hoarded production techniques are supposed to foster incentives to find and develop new miracle cures. This view has been widely critiqued, in part by pointing to the role of government subsidy. But there is another downside to the conventional model. That model’s emphasis on secrecy in preparation for patent claims and patent litigation impedes communication among scientists and renders their work far short of science’s transparency standard.
“Sharing information can help ramp up Covid vaccine production. Sharing information can also advance mRNA science by allowing scientists to quickly learn from each other’s work,” Public Citizen said. “Indeed, the development of safe and effective mRNA vaccines builds on decades of scientific discoveries across many different institutions. Secrecy makes us less safe against this virus—and future pandemic threats.”
Current drug research, development, and marketing priorities are based on an effort to limit competition at every step of the journey. “Big Pharma’s business model—receive billions in public investments, charge exorbitant prices for lifesaving medicines, pay little tax—is gold dust for wealthy investors and corporate executives but devastating for global public health,” said Robbie Silverman, Oxfam America’s private sector engagement manager, in a statement.
“Instead of partnering with governments and other qualified manufacturers to make sure that we have enough vaccine doses for everyone, these pharmaceutical companies prioritize their own profits by enforcing their monopolies and selling to the highest bidder,” he added. “Enough is enough—we must start putting people before profits.”
Bonus video added by Informed Comment: