The appearance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus revealed the fragility of the world’s healthcare systems, even in countries considered to be at the forefront of public health networks. European nations such as Italy, France, Spain, Germany, England, among others, were overwhelmed by the high volume of Covid-19 infected patients requiring care in Intensive Care Units (ICU).
But Covid-19 not only showed the fragility of the healthcare systems of the Global North, it also revealed the rapacious nature of the system that governs them. Once the pandemic became the center of events, the overriding common goal was to try to find a solution to return to “normalcy”. And one of them was to try to manufacture a vaccine.
The start of the race
This became a race not only to find a solution to a pandemic with multifactorial consequences, but also to see who would exert the greatest geopolitical influence from then on.
Since March of last year, the first steps began to be taken through multilateral organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) for a joint solution, but also, as was to be expected, an unhealthy race driven by the logic of the market, which implied a competition with pitfalls where the right to life lost relevance.
In this contest, the large pharmaceutical corporations came into play in a sort of cold war in which the most powerful countries also played a role in accordance with their neoliberal nature: whoever managed to obtain the vaccine would capitalize on its commodification, and whoever had more resources would have a greater chance of monopolizing more immunizations.
However, not everything operated according to this logic. From the beginning of the pandemic, there was also cooperation between nations to seek a joint solution and a more hopeful vision in the midst of the disaster. Such is the case of countries like China, Russia, Cuba, among others, which put their scientific and technological advances at the service of the local population and in other latitudes.
A clear case of this was evidenced in the cooperation with Venezuela, in the midst of the fiercest unilateral blockade, which even intensified with the arrival of the pandemic.
Big Pharma and the West
Faced with the challenge of finding a solution to contain the pandemic that revealed the structural crisis, the natural symbiosis between the West and the large pharmaceutical corporations gathered in Big Pharma, an elite that concentrates in a few the largest vaccine manufacturing in the world, was glimpsed.
A few months later, the race to find the vaccine was already in full swing. On the one hand, China and Russia were leading the discourse of solidarity, and on the other, the pharmaceutical corporations, mostly American, were each trying to conquer the market.
These two ways of looking at the historical moment would be decisive in understanding the consequences of leaving something as vital as the manufacture of a vaccine to the logic of the market.
When vaccine manufacturers began to show advances, the race for the acquisition of vaccines began. The rich countries played ahead of the game and shelled out large amounts of dollars for the acquisition of immunizations. While the goal was to protect their citizens, the hope also remained that such immunization would serve as a return to lost “normalcy” and thus economic recovery.
In this scavenger logic also applied the stigma to those who, from a certain point of view, were competition to this logic, not because they really wanted to compete, but because the fact of having a more supportive vision already represented losses for the pharmaceutical elites. Such is the case of China and Russia, the scapegoats of the West in these times: were not the “Chinese virus” and the “Russian vaccine” patented as “negative propaganda” against these nations?
In this competition, the aforementioned countries play a decisive role. Of the 17 candidate vaccines against covid-19 registered by the WHO, more than half are from China and one of the most efficient, with 92% effectiveness, is Sputnik V, from Russia.
With the second wave of covid-19 at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 (apparently they did not learn the lesson of last year, when Europe became the epicenter of the pandemic with catastrophic consequences), the acquisition of vaccines became a priority issue and the seams began to show.
Of the European Union (EU) only the name remained, because in the midst of the disaster the least there was was unity and solidarity among nations. The most notable aspects of the pandemic in the cultured and civilized Europe, the cradle and pride of Western civilization, were the straddling, conspiracies and hoarding.
Although it is not a European country, the case of Israel is a glaring example of the hoarding of rich countries. The Zionist State has purchased 24 million doses from various pharmaceutical companies, even though the vaccination population is 6 million, for which 12 million doses are required, assuming that double doses must be applied.
Failures in production and distribution
This year, the failure of vaccine manufacturers to comply with the commitments acquired with European countries became more evident. Doubts as to whether they would be able to meet global demand increased the desperation of nations.
At the beginning of this year, Italy, the nation hardest hit by the pandemic in Europe, promised to sue Pfizer for reducing by 29% the distribution of doses in that country, which interferes with the vaccination scheme that began last year. The German-American pharmaceutical company applied the cutback to the entire continent.
This situation is repeated in Germany. According to a German media, “the European Union and Germany could run short of vaccine supplies. The delay in signing contracts with pharmaceutical companies could mean that the vaccines arrive late, as well as not being sufficient,” reports Der Spiegel.
The outgoing Washington administration had a goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans in the coming weeks, which could explain the supply shortfalls and diversion of supplies in the Global North. According to German authorities, at least 70% of the population is required to be vaccinated.
Of the 1.3 billion doses ordered by the European Union, only BioNTech/Pfizer (U.S.-Germany) and Moderna (also from the U.S.) are assured. Between them, Pfizer and Moderna would supply some 60 million vaccines to Germany.
The four vaccine manufacturers contracted by the Europeans are experiencing production delays. The Anglo-Swiss AstraZeneca interrupted its trials (its effectiveness is questionable) at the same time as it unexpectedly announced that it would deliver 60% fewer doses of the vaccine in 2021 than the 400 million planned; and the French Sanofi postponed the approval of its vaccine until the end of 2021.
According to the German media Bild, the health authorities of Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands tried, in the middle of last year, to break EU rules by seeking to make their own vaccine purchases, but the heads of state bowed to the designs of Brussels.
This demonstrates not only the ineffectiveness of the pharmaceutical companies, but also the inability of the European multilateral organization to respond to its Member States. In this scenario, it is worth mentioning that until recently only two vaccines against the coronavirus had been authorized by the EU: the Pfizer vaccine in collaboration with BioNTech and the Moderna vaccine, which leaves Sputnik V out. So far, there has been no statement explaining the reasons.
Recently, El salto published “The crossed-out secrets of the European Commission’s vaccine procurement contracts”, regarding the pressure against the European Commission (EC) that manages vaccine procurement on the continent. However, in the document they cross out important details that could reveal corruption schemes around a process in which the lives of millions of people in the continent are at stake.
Suspension of payments, non-compliance, diversion of vaccines to other countries, delay of deliveries, threat of lawsuits, among others, have characterized the handling of the immunization process against covid-19 in Europe.
“What are the measures, times or other conditions of the contracts signed by the EC with these companies?”, asks Yago Álvarez Barba, author of the article. The truth is that apparently not even the MEPs seem to be aware of what is going on.
“The EC has refused to show these contracts on the grounds that they contain sensitive information. In the same way as was done with the big free trade agreements, such as TTIP or CETA, MEPs had only one way to access one of these contracts: in a closed room, without the help of any advisor, without a camera or telephone and by signing a confidentiality agreement. In addition, the MEPs had a maximum time of 50 minutes, for which they had to join a long list of representatives with the same intention, to analyze a document of more than 60 pages. Moreover, as denounced by several parliamentarians who had access to the contract, it was full of erasures that censored important parts”.
Important details such as the amount of inputs required for large-scale immunization and the cost of the vaccines are crossed out and handled in secret.
“The Product will be supplied in the form of XXX which will require XXX. However, the packaging characteristics (final presentation) are still under consideration. The XXX will likely be presented in boxes of XXX and the XXX. The packaging will also include XXX. The volume injected for one dose is expected to be 0.5 ml (after dilution)”, refers to a contract that corresponds to an agreement with CureVac, the German company that is behind in the testing and approval of the vaccine.
No country in the Global South expects solidarity from Europe, but the fact that it does not exist among them demolishes the myth of the unity of the old continent. The pandemic reveals, in addition to the fragility of the health systems, the scavenger attitude of the system which governs them and which they claim to be an example for the rest of the world.
Translation by Internationalist 360°