Aug 16, 2021
The following editorial appeared the week of August 9, in SPARK workplace newsletters.
Biden, in calling on people to be vaccinated, says his administration is “guided by the science.”
On the level of science, vaccination should be an enormous step forward, a way to eliminate many diseases, or at least hold them in check, preventing them from decimating populations.
But science, including medical science and vaccination, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Carried out today in the midst of the capitalist system, vaccination is, before anything else, a way to enrich stockholders and executives of a few big pharmaceutical companies. That fact determines everything else.
Covid continues to harm large parts of the world’s population. But it has been a gigantic opportunity for a few big drug companies. Biospace—which calls itself an “information and news source for the life science industry”—reports that Covid vaccine sales should hit 67 billion dollars this year, and 61 billion dollars in 2022. Two companies alone, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are expected to grab 60% of that money.
The problem is not simply this outrageous amount of money. In the midst of a global medical catastrophe, these two companies used their control over a new scientific discovery to hold the whole world hostage. And governments not only defended their right to do so, they gave Pfizer and Moderna the means to do it.
The research that produced the scientific breakthrough for mRNA vaccines was carried out in publicly funded universities and institutes. It may have been publicly funded, but it was given to Pfizer and Moderna, two privately owned companies, to exploit.
Faced with the spread of the virus, governments in several countries, including the U.S., gave the two companies direct grants or advance purchase contracts in order to get vaccine production going.
Thus, Pfizer and Moderna were given the patents. They set prices as high as they wanted—regardless of what it cost them to produce the vaccine. Moderna’s current cost of production was only 4% of its total global sales—according to Moderna’s own annual report.
Oxfam, the advocate for the poor countries, estimates that this one privately-owned company takes in more than enough in one year to vaccinate all the people in all the poor countries of the world. The fact this wasn’t done means no one is safe.
Biden speaks about the “common interests of humanity” needed to overcome Covid. Well, whatever the U.S. government did to bring out vaccines, it wasn’t to protect all of humanity. Not even a part of humanity. Humanity was sacrificed to the needs of the capitalist class and the specific interests of the pharmaceutical companies.
This is the “science” that guides Biden, just like it was the “science” that guided Trump.
Today, many people still express distrust of the vaccine. Whatever else is behind this, and no matter how confused people’s way of expressing what they feel, this capitalist system gives enormous reason for distrust.
The domination of the capitalist class has disastrous consequences for all of society. Nothing, including science, is freed from the grip of capitalism.
But capitalism has created something else, what Marx called capitalism’s own gravedigger. The working class, because of its numbers and its place in the heart of the economy, is the force that can get rid of the capitalist class. The working class also has the capacities that will allow it to build a new society—one that truly will serve the “common interests of humanity,” and in which science can play its full role.