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Big pharma must be forced to prioritise welfare of humanity

ROGER McKENZIE looks at how lobbying by powerful cartels buys favour from politicians to the detriment of public health

WHILE the richest nations of the world debate whether or not a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine is required, many people in the global South are yet to receive even their first jab.

Vaccine apartheid is real. This is not a figment of the imagination or some kind of special pleading. Real people are dying because of the hoarding of vaccine doses by the richest nations.

Even when offered the opportunity to fix this by making big pharma, the powerful pharmaceutical companies, share their vaccine patents and technologies, the rich nations choose not to.

They prefer, instead, to stockpile vaccines, knowing full well that the consequences are that people elsewhere will die.

They give in to the powerful voice of big pharma who are argue the importance of incentives to produce any new vaccines that may be needed in the future and that, in any case, these poorer countries do not have the expertise to manufacture the finished product.

To hear politicians from the richest nations posture and use the now well-worn phrase that none of us are safe until all of us are safe is past embarrassing.

If they meant it then they would make sure that more vaccines were made available for people of the global South.

This is far from being some sort of left-wing plot. Former prime minister Gordon Brown has rightly been demanding action on this since the beginning of last year but even his calls have been ignored.

Money, once again, talks the loudest. But it does not need to. In a global public health emergency it is outrageous that the market still takes precedent over the survival of millions, if not billions, of people across the globe.

Simply closing their borders against nations that are deemed to have a prevalence of the current omicron strain or any future variant of Covid-19 is really only closing the stable door after the proverbial horse has long bolted.

Given that the rich nations can see what is happening for themselves, the question must be asked as to why they are refusing to take the action that is so clearly required?

Big pharma have clearly calculated that they can maximise profits by selling their vaccines to nations with more money rather than poorer ones.

Not a very complicated argument because a primary duty of these companies have to their shareholders is to increase profits wherever and however they can.

They will argue that they are not charitable institutions, so this is their right.

We know that big pharma, alongside the major agricultural companies, are among the most effective lobbying operations in the world and have deep pockets to back it up.

Many of the politicians across the globe are heavily funded by these companies.

Recent analysis in the US by STAT News, shows how big pharma has massively increased its congressional spending.

The Guardian reported in June of last year on a study by University of Bath researchers that revealed the hidden web of big pharma funding of MPs and peers in Britain.

They showed how 58 all-party parliamentary groups focusing on varying aspects of health received 468 payments totalling nearly £2.2 million, even before the pandemic began.

One can only guess what levels these payments reached over the last two years and I look forward to the academic studies that show this.

As far as I know there is nothing unlawful about these payments, — and that is in fact the problem.

Buying influence to protect or generate profits is seen to be a business as usual way of doing things — part of the way things work in what is generally known as politics.

In reality the lines between big business and politics have become blurred to the point of virtual non-existence.

Making sure that the richest nations do the right thing and take all possible steps to get more vaccines into more arms in the global South is the most immediate thing that needs to happen.

Without this happening, and quickly, very many people will continue to needlessly die.

This pandemic has clearly revealed how politicians and big business are now as indistinguishable from each other as they have ever been.

It is also as clear that this morphing is not just some local or regional matter but it is thoroughly global in nature. 

We need to expose the stranglehold that big business has over political decision making in Britain and elsewhere.

Big pharma, the powerful transnational agricultural companies and the leading retail conglomerates are the real global superpowers.

They regularly take decisions over who lives and dies and if you are chosen to live, the quality of that life including access to food and sustenance.

We need to find a way to break this deadly corporate stranglehold over political decision making in the richest countries.

That means building a stronger voice for working-class people to get our views heard.

Trade unions and the Labour Party need to be more effective at creating this stronger voice for the working class.

Organisations such as the People’s Assembly have already made a huge difference in opening the space for working-class intervention to take place, but more needs to be done. 

Liberation will continue to play a leading role in revealing the transnational web of political influence that these mega-companies have and how colonialism, both past and present, plays its part in sustaining their system of power.

Roger Mckenzie is a journalist and general secretary of Liberation (liberationorg.co.uk).

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