Thanks to capitalist competition and private property, vaccination is a disaster

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
January 18, 2021

Since Monday, the government has been calling on those over 75 to go and get vaccinated. But the six million people to whom this applies will have to be patient because the government is no more up to this job than it was when it came to supplying face masks, testing for the virus and tracing it.

The logistics haven’t been anticipated. Vaccine doses lie waiting in freezers while vaccination centers aren’t being used to their full capacity. Phone lines at vaccine scheduling call centers are saturated. The right type of needle hasn’t always been ordered…

And there’s another, more serious problem concerning vaccine production. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer can’t maintain the promised production rates and has even announced a delay in deliveries. To try and reassure us, they’ve said it’ll only be a week. Pharmaceutical companies have been quick to take orders and cash in. But when it comes to setting up production lines and hiring personnel, they’re much slower and much less efficient.

And why would they rush when the rationing of vaccines raises the stakes and allows them to negotiate higher prices on future orders? Following the face-mask war, a vaccine war where states outbid each other is unlikely to displease them.

The obstacle that the vaccination campaign is now up against is that of competition and private property. Pfizer and Moderna are the only pharmaceutical companies to have a vaccine that is approved in Europe but their production capacity is insufficient. Sanofi, Merck and GSK, on the other hand, have the capacity but don’t have their own vaccine yet.

It would be plain common sense and in our collective interest that these labs work together, share their patents and pool their resources to produce life-saving vaccines as quickly and massively as possible. But because of competition and the race for profit, Pfizer and Moderna want to keep the goose that lays golden eggs for themselves; and Sanofi will only do whatever allows the company to make a profit – which, for now, means continuing to develop its own vaccine.

Scientists and medical research teams have been racing against time and have achieved in 10 months what usually takes years. Now, precious time will be wasted because of each company’s profitability calculations. Private ownership, the pursuit of profit and competition are the causes of this mess.

Last May, Macron said: “This vaccine must be a public good for the world, unaffected by the laws of the market”. Those were fine words… but all hot air! This confirms once again that capitalist corporations and their shareholders are the ones who have the real power.

States may have planned their vaccination campaigns but it’s the multinational pharmaceutical companies which have the final say when setting prices, deadlines and quantities. Governments will ask them nicely to pick up the pace, but as loyal defenders of private property, they’ll bow down to the choices made by the labs.

Pharmaceutical companies impose their domination in accordance with the sacrosanct principle of private ownership. But where does private capital come from if not from the exploitation of workers? And how much of their capital is pillaged from public money?

The health sector is one of the most heavily state-subsidized sectors. How much have governments spent on research for the vaccine? How much have they spent on the development of the vaccines? How much will factories that make the vaccine receive in subsidies? It’s impossible to find anything out because all this information is kept secret.

Profits and dividends are exclusively privately-owned. And with this health crisis, pharmaceutical companies are hitting the jackpot. PCR tests are a good example. In Germany, they cost 50€, in Spain they cost between 30€ and 40€ and in France they cost… 73.59€. Why is there such a big difference? How much does it actually cost to make them? One thing is sure: health insurance has already paid out more than two billion euros and the bill will be handed to us, to the great delight of the pharmaceutical companies.

The opacity of contracts and prices, the greed of pharmaceutical trusts, the difficulties of producing and delivering the vaccines all illustrate the flaws of capitalism. Nothing in this society will be done collectively or constructively while it is dominated by the private ownership of the major means of production, by the law of the capitalist marketplace and competition. We must fight to get rid of them because they are why society is in a mess. Putting an end to patents and trade secrets, imposing worker control over production and the expropriation of capitalist corporations is a necessity for everyone!