The war over vaccines and the madness of capitalism

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
August 3, 2020

Since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, all the major pharmaceutical companies in the world have embarked on a frantic race to find a vaccine against this disease. According to specialists, out of the hundreds of ongoing projects, four have already reached the most advanced stage of human trials. “We are trying to do in six to eight months what normally takes ten to twenty years,” a Sanofi official recently explained.

There is reason to be impressed by this mobilization of medical research, and there should be reason to rejoice in the potential progress. But, in the capitalist world, nothing is ever that simple. For the leaders of multinational pharmaceutical companies, the search for a vaccine is first and foremost a race for profit! In the competition to pocket the jackpot, you have to be the first to find a vaccine, and also the first able to produce it in large quantities.

Thus, before even checking its efficacy and its safety, some laboratories have already started to produce their vaccine industrially. To "secure" their profits, the multinational pharmaceutical companies are forcing the states which can afford it – i.e. the wealthiest – to pre-order millions of doses.

This competition between the big pharmaceutical groups is leading states to wage a war costing billions, since each state wants to make sure it will receive the future vaccine quickly. Three months ago, a Sanofi official said his lab would serve the United States first if it found a vaccine because the US had paid more than the others. It was a way of putting pressure on European states to spend as much as Uncle Sam.

With his usual hypocrisy, Macron pretended to protest, declaring that it was necessary "for the vaccine to be a global public good, protected from the law of the market." Who did he think he was kidding? As Macron always does when a big boss raises his voice, he submitted to Sanofi's demands, promising them hundreds of millions with no conditions attached – at the very moment when Sanofi is announcing an historic increase in its profits and preparing to cut 1,700 jobs in Europe, including 1,000 in France.

If these laboratories, thanks to all the public money they are receiving, finally manage to find a vaccine, it will be protected by patents and the sacrosanct “commercial secrecy”, preventing any sharing of knowledge. People will have no way of knowing the terms of the contracts signed by governments with these groups, who will be free to choose whatever business strategy they see fit. An executive of the US laboratory Pfizer put it bluntly: "These are extraordinary times and our price will reflect it." Too bad for those who can't afford to pay!

In fact, in all spheres of life, society comes up against the greed, parasitism and irresponsibility of a ruling class that is blinded by the pursuit of profit. Thanks to advances in science and technology, society has tremendous means to improve human life. In all countries, including the richest, there are many needs to be met in all areas, in health, education, transport, housing... Yet the economy is sinking ever deeper into the crisis.

The current economic crisis is not due to the coronavirus epidemic although it has accelerated it. Mankind has survived many such episodes. Today, to face the consequences of the epidemic, the goods and the capital accumulated during the years of growth should be mobilized in the general interest... but they’re not, because they’re in the hands of a privileged minority. Businesses have not been destroyed by a cataclysm or a war, they’re still there! If they are now shut down or under-employed, it is entirely due to the capitalists’ choice to drastically reduce staff.

In an economic system mastered and controlled by society, production and trade could and should be organized so as to meet social needs. But this won't be possible for as long as capitalists run the whole of society and impose their decisions on it without ever being held accountable.

Expropriating the capitalists, reorganizing the economy according to collective needs and no longer according to the whims of a minority: these are the objectives that the workers will have to put forward in order to save society from the general disaster that capitalism is preparing for us.