The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Drug Companies Compete Over Swine Flu

Aug 17, 2009

There is a race against the clock to make a vaccine against the swine flu before the pandemic reaches its maximum. A vaccine would reduce the number of victims this very contagious disease could cause.

When the first cases of infection by the new flu virus became known in April of 2008, a centralized system at the global level functioned to identify the new virus and produce the virus strains essential to making a new vaccine. This same system, coordinated by the World Health Organization, makes possible each year a new vaccine against whatever strain of flu is expected in the coming year.

But now that the big pharmaceutical companies have received the viral strain, each one is out for itself! Each company is trying to produce the vaccine before its competitors, in order to get the biggest possible slice of the cake! Baxter Labs seems to be ahead in the profit race. It just announced that it had finished making its first batch of vaccine, which it could provide by mid-September, if it gets permission to put it on the market. The other great pharmaceutical companies – Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur – are a little behind, and probably won’t sell their vaccines until October or November. But they made sure of their profits by getting firm orders from governments, even if they cannot ensure their vaccine will be ready in time. What’s at stake are billions of dollars in sales.

A collaboration between the scientific teams of the different pharmaceutical companies could possibly produce the vaccine sooner, at less cost and in greater quantities. But that isn’t what moves these capitalist firms, among the richest companies in the world. Their main function isn’t caring for people, but generating profit.