Vaccine imperialism's latest tricks
Source Patrick Bond
Date 21/03/25/13:35

A FEARED THIRD WAVE of Covid-19 infections in South Africa doesn’t yet appear in the stats, though a spike in deaths on the weekend was worrying. But the excess deaths through 7 March are still comparatively low.

Still, the period ahead - here and everywhere - looks dire, especially internationally given the recent 10% increase in new cases with many lockdowns now intensifying, and the extreme variants of vaccine imperialism that are also depleting health systems’ immunity, especially South Africa’s - since our vaccine rollout is utterly pathetic. That point need not be belabored - but is explained below.

As the paper of record for the U.S. ruling class, the New York Times is in today's edition prepared to admit that “90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered have gone to wealthy or middle-income countries.” But that leads their readers to a frightened framing in today’s NYT story on vaccine imperialism - sometimes misnamed vaccine nationalism as if the progressive nationalism+internationalism of Cuba is in any way related to the profits-at-all-cost-including-worsening-pandemic of the Global North and “middle-income”, i.e. subimperial, allies:

“Rich Countries Signed Away a Chance to Vaccinate the World: Despite warnings, American and European officials gave up leverage that could have guaranteed access for billions of people. That risks prolonging the pandemic.”

How do they justify it?

Dr. Graham, the N.I.H. scientist whose team cracked the coronavirus vaccine code for Moderna, said that pandemic preparedness and vaccine development should be international collaborations, not competitions. “A lot of this would not have happened unless there was a big infusion of government money,” he said. But governments cannot afford to sabotage companies that need profit to survive.

Amazing logic, absolutely the definition of the imperialist state, which Vulgar Marxists like myself tend to call “the executive committee of the bourgeoisie.” There you go. They got $18 bn in authorised Operation Warp Speed gifts from Trump, plus $70 bn from other countries, thus generating windfall vaccine profits ... but now, “companies need profit to survive” is the excuse for preventing generic vaccine and treatment production across the world? The BBC had a good critique on March 20 of vaccine imperialism with a leaked WHO document showing Big Pharma's grip over the U.S. and British states on Intellectual Policy.

So what new innovations are keeping this game in play?

Trick 1: amping up hypocrisy to Trumpian levels, as Biden and Brussels have done with yet more generous subsidisation of big capital, so long as branding-IP remains under the control of yankee/european corporates and no generics are permitted: manufacturers from Canada to Bangladesh say they can make vaccines — they just lack patent licensing deals. When the price is right, companies have shared secrets with new manufacturers in just months, ramping up production and retrofitting factories. It helps when the government sweetens the deal. Earlier this month, Mr. Biden announced that the pharmaceutical giant Merck would help make vaccines for its competitor Johnson & Johnson. The government pressured Johnson & Johnson to accept the help and is using wartime procurement powers to secure supplies for the company.

Trick 2: as Priti Patnaik of Geneva Health Files observes, just below the Citizen update, rich countries are providing a distracting alternative - naturally one backed by Bill Gates, who must have learned lessons from 20 years ago when the Treatment Action Campaign ran rings around his efforts to set up branded-ARV distribution centres to maximise Northern Big Pharma profits, with TAC ultimately decommodifying AIDS medicines through a WTO IP waiver and massive generic production capacity plus public-health-system delivery;

France, other actors in the ACT Accelerator including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CEPI among others. Sources said that these plans are still under discussion. A concept paper on the proposal, seen by Geneva Health Files lays out how such a hub would function, including timelines on transferring technology and establishing a hub by the end of this year. There is a concerted effort for such an initiative to be away from the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, a WHO initiative first spearheaded by Costa Rica in early 2020. Sources say that the proponents of such a hub are not in favor of pooling in know-how to facilitate technology transfer, a fundamental idea underlying the C-TAP. By instituting a tech transfer hub under the ACT-A, WHO member states will not be involved in the way this process will be run, critics fear. (Similar to concerns on how the COVAX Facility is being governed, away from member states’ oversight.

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