A couple of shots to the arm and this will all be over. With today’s news from Moderna, last week’s from Pfizer, and with a potential update from AstraZeneca in the next few days, we may soon have three vaccines against Covid-19 (and if you add in candidates from Russia and China perhaps more). And yet, it turns out, that some people are already fretting about potential side effects from that. And they don’t just mean a mild fever or muscle ache. They mean something far, far nastier. Profits.
While most of us have been feeling a lot better about the epidemic over the last week, Jeremy Corbyn seems most worried that — once a vaccine has been approved and the virus eliminated — a big company might make some money from it. ‘A vaccine should not become a privatised commodity used for corporate profiteering,’ he tweeted over the weekend. ‘Instead it should be a global public good and shared with the world.’
That view is widely shared on the left. Opinion columnists are already fretting about greedy drugs multinationals, and no doubt we will hear calls soon for some of the drugs companies to be taken into state ownership. Poorer nations might be excluded and the familiar villain of Big Pharma will be unfairly enriched. But hold on. Seriously? Is anyone out there actually worried about a few companies making some money from a vaccine?
For starters, the drugs companies are investing huge sums to push through a vaccine in record time. Trials are expensive and so is regulatory clearance. Manufacturing — tricky for a vaccine — costs money. It’s hard to see why a company shouldn’t earn a return on that. And of course the Covid-19 vaccine will not be especially expensive, at least when measured against the amount of good it will do (after all, saving the world is sort of worth it, all things considered).
The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be priced at around £15 a shot and the more expensive Moderna one will cost about £30. Lets crunch a few numbers on that. To vaccinate everyone in the UK, at the top of the range price, will cost £2 billion (excluding the infrastructure needed to roll out a nationwide inoculation programme). Rishi Sunak spends that much on business support schemes every couple of days. It sounds like a bargain. If anything the vaccine is under rather than over-priced. As for poorer nations, take a country such as South Africa, with a big Covid-19 epidemic, as an example. Inoculating everyone with the most expensive vaccine would cost £1.7 billion. Again, it is hard to imagine the wealthier countries wouldn’t willingly subsidise the cost of that.
In truth, all the left is doing it demonstrating once again how ridiculously out-of-touch it is. Most of us will simply be grateful that we have a vaccine, that people will stop dying, that others will stop getting sick, and that everyone can get back to living a normal life. Profits? Sure, that’s fine. The people who have done the work and taken some risks to make that happen are entitled to earn a living from it — and they deserve a lot better than cheap attacks from people who have contributed nothing to fixing the crisis.
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