As governments fight over which country will get the most vaccines soonest (and at the best price) and whose pharmaceutical companies will make the most money, it’s easy to think that there’s no other realistic way of producing and distributing the vaccines needed to roll back and, hopefully, eventually stop the coronavirus epidemic. In December, the People’s Vaccine Alliance reported that rich countries, with 14 percent of the world’s population, had bought up 53 percent of all the vaccines likely to be successful—which was enough to vaccinate their populations three times over.
So it is not surprising that the increase of vaccines approved or nearing approval—I think there are now around seven or eight—seems not to have done much, if anything, to reduce the cutthroat competition or the prices.
The propaganda claims that only the prospect of huge profits can persuade pharmaceutical companies to invest in developing and producing vaccines, and so, in the end, the market has to rule in this situation (even though some of the privately patented vaccines were developed wholly or in part by government subsidies).
But there is evidence that it could be done differently. Cuba—a poor country with about half the population of Australia, and which has been labouring under a United States economic blockade for six decades—has begun a Phase 3 test of Soberana 2, the vaccine considered the most effective among the four that its scientists have been developing and testing. Soberana 2 is a recombinant protein vaccine, which does not require extreme refrigeration.
If the Phase 3 test is successful, the Cubans hope to inoculate their entire population by the end of this year. But they are planning to produce up to ten times the number of doses that are required for Cuba. The country—partly because of the US blockade—does not have the capacity to produce the planned 100 million doses in one year. The government is therefore seeking to partner with pharmaceutical companies in Europe or Canada to produce Cuba’s patented vaccine.
The extra vaccine is to be exported, but not at the excessive prices demanded by Big Pharma. Cuba’s past practice with its patented medical treatments is that it seeks to recover its costs: it provides the treatments free or at concession prices to poor countries and charges near market rates for licences to wealthy countries. This approach is part of Cuba’s well-known medical missions to scores of countries around the world. The United Nations estimated in 2019 that 30,000 Cuban doctors were providing health services in 67 countries in that year. This is one of the factors that has won Cuba much international good will and support against the US.
Cuba’s development of a vaccine is certainly not a “miracle of the market”. It’s a matter of what a society considers important. As part of a strategy to survive against the blockade and ongoing threats from the US, not long after Cuba’s 1959 revolution, the government decided to specialise in medicine and microbiology. It is not a coincidence that the name of the vaccine, Soberana, is the Spanish word for “sovereignty”.
Perhaps, in the not too distant future, “soberana” might become an international term meaning “Health doesn’t have to depend on pharmaceutical company profits”.
The process of creating a more progressive Chilean constitution took another decisive step on 9 May. Unfortunately, it was a step further away from the demands of the 2019 rebellion, which pushed the conservative government to the brink of collapse and forced it to initiate the constituent process as a way out of the political crisis.
After seventeen months in office, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo was this month deposed by a right-wing parliamentary coup hidden behind the facade of an official and legal impeachment process. The impeachment vote came just hours after Castillo announced that he planned to dissolve Congress, hold new elections, redraft the constitution and place Peru under a state of emergency. His vice-president, Dina Boluarte, has assumed the presidency while Castillo is held by police on charges of “rebellion” and has been ordered to remain in prison for the next eighteen months.
A wave of mass struggle has surged in Haiti, anti-regime riots and protests washing over the country over the last nine weeks. Sparked by fuel price increases, the protests have linked dire living conditions to the unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
More than 150 million Brazilians went to the polls to elect a president and members of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies on 2 October. The election was a showdown between the two heavyweights of Brazilian politics, pitting former president and leader of the Workers’ Party (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, against the far-right incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro.
The Chilean population has voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposal for a new constitution to replace the current document, written under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. The shockingly strong “reject” vote of 62 percent comes just two years after an explosion of street protests and strikes forced conservative President Sebastian Piñera to promise the drafting of a new constitution.
It has been generations in the making but, on 19 June, the first ever leftist president of Colombia was elected. Gustavo Petro defeated his right-wing opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, in a second-round run-off with 50.4 percent of the vote against 47.3 percent. The traditional conservative and centre-left coalitions were both defeated in the first round, winning 24 percent and 4 percent of the vote respectively.