The head of the World Health Organisation warned that the world faces a “catastrophic moral failure” if we continue the path of unequal Covid vaccine distribution. The fact is that the world’s richest countries hoard vaccines at their own peril and risk extending the impact of the pandemic by years if we do not ensure equitable and just distribution of vaccines across the world. The only way to combat this global pandemic is with solidarity and international cooperation. So far, we have seen 118 million cases worldwide with a tragic 2.62 million deaths globally. There is no doubt that this is a global pandemic, and our fates are tied. But pro-capitalist governments and the pharmaceutical monopolies stand in the way of this global mission to end this pandemic as soon as possible. Like many other crises of capitalism, this requires international working-class solidarity against capitalist bosses and governments who allow profits to trump saving the lives and livelihoods of millions.
The extraordinary profiteering of pharmaceutical companies is clear when we see that the CEO of BioNTech has gotten 4 billion dollars richer since the beginning of the pandemic while the CEO of Moderna has gained 4,8 billion dollars since the beginning of the pandemic – his net worth is now 5,3 billion dollars which means most of his wealth came through the development of the successful Covid-19 vaccine. These bosses should not be allowed to hoard their wealth while the majority of people face the constant risk of sickness and death while also facing dire consequences of country-wide lockdowns.
The cruelty of capitalist system was clear as ever yesterday when the world’s richest countries defeated the efforts of South Africa and India to remove the agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the Covid-19 vaccine at the World Trade Oorganisation. This means the multinational pharmaceutical corporations are now free to continue to use patents to profit even in the face of a pandemic at this horrific scale.
We condemn this decision and call that patent agreements should be totally suspended and all technological information regarding the development of the vaccine should be opensource so that countries can produce vaccines as quickly as possible. The notion that research and innovation is fuelled only by the profit motive is undermined by the fact that companies like Moderna and Pfizer have received huge amounts of public funding for vaccine development.
The vaccines should be public goods and distributed in the public interest, not for short-term profits.
While the South African government has allocated R9 billion for vaccine rollout, it cannot be the working class who pays for this with reduced services elsewhere. The overall health budget is being cut in the medium term with reduced spending on buildings and infrastructure as well as equipment. These cuts will be devastating for under-resourced hospitals and clinics that are already not able to meet the needs of the majority of our people. Instead of the outrageous cuts in corporate tax, as was announced in the latest budget speech, we need to raise the tax on big business to fund the vaccine roll out and procurement of vaccines. No to austerity budgets!
Ultimately it is only under a socialist and internationalist global economy that we can ensure that future pandemics are prepared for and managed efficiently and justly. We need to fight for the nationalisation of the pharmaceutical healthcare industries under the democratic control of communities, and workers. Without the ability to reorganise industry and the economy to meet the needs of our people in the face of crises, we face many more catastrophic moral failures to come.