Vaccinations against COVID-19 and greed

As the world races to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the motive must be helping people and not a money grab. Through collaboration and shared best practices, we can put a quicker end to Covid-19’s reign of terror, both physically and psychologically. Profit can come later. The expectation of financial windfalls must be tempered.

Service to humanity and financial gain are standard motivations for laboratories large and small, from universities to big pharma. Johnson & Johnson is already stocking up on supplies of its most promising reagents, so that if they prove effective, distribution can start immediately. That is smart but very costly, and to its honor Johnson & Johnson has elected to bear the expense itself

Effective medicines and vaccines must be made available not only to those able to pay but to the poor worldwide. In 2009, because of hoarding by rich nations, the vaccine for swine flu was in short supply in poor countries. A similar result with COVID-19 would prove catastrophic. As soon as the drugs are available, America should step up and help to share cures and vaccines with those countries at no cost, and the State Department has correctly committed itself “to Support the International Response to COVID-19.”

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) successfully united superlative medical researchers at commercial and university laboratories worldwide to work together to find cures and an effective vaccine. That is very promising. There is a political battle between President Trump and the World Health Organization (WHO) over its praising China despite its delayed report of the coronavirus outbreak and its under reporting of the infected and dead. But, that aside, coordinating with the CEPI and other enterprises to produce a truly word wide effort, WHO must follow through on its stated commitment: “We are scientists, physicians, funders and manufactures who have come together as part of an international collaboration, coordinated by the World Health Organization, to help speed the availability of a vaccine against COVID-19.”

Companies that funded research themselves, affected like everyone else by the Coronavirus strain, are financially stressed. But, should further testing prove their drugs and vaccines effective, they must put off profits. It will be necessary to cover costs and fund rapid distribution of successful treatments and vaccines, of course, but, beyond that, saving lives is the crucial motive.

Italy and Israel, working together have had some succeed injecting the antibodies of recovered COVID-19 patients into COVID-19 sufferers with other ills.

Beyond that, Jonathan Gershoni at Tel Aviv University, who has for 35 years been researching the coronavirus’ Receptor Binding Motif ,its means of attaching to and infecting targeted cells, has patented the technology, which he now specifically intends to use to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. He anticipates possible success in a matter of months, after which, presumably, the vaccine will be approved for direct testing on humans.  The patent grants him the credit he deserves. We must hope and expect that, with him vaccinated against greed, his vaccine if successful will be made available at no cost.

There are precedents.

In the 1950s, Jonas Salk, after developing a vaccine that cured polio, did not patent it. Determined to have the affliction wiped out worldwide, for which it was necessary to keep cost to a minimum, he renounced profit for the discovery. He had thus earned two Nobel prizes, one for science and the other for his contribution to peace. But in good company he received neither, joining Phillip Roth, who in “Nemesis” treats the ravages of polio in 1944, and Rosalind Franklin, whose photo led to the double helix, among the deserving and unrewarded.

As early as Genesis, the first book of the Bible, responsible management of crises for the wellbeing of humanity was celebrated. The Hebrew Joseph correctly interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams and predicts seven years of good harvest followed by seven of agricultural failure. He suggests and oversees the correct response. For seven good years, Egypt stores grain, and, when famine hits, Egypt and her neighbors have bread to eat. For which Joseph abjures personal profit.

Nostradamus, in the sixteenth century, travelled widely, advocating cleanliness, fresh air and the removal of corpses while distributing his rosehips cure for bubonic plague and unwittingly sacrificing his family, who died of the disease while he was away.

In our day, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is spending billions to build manufacturing facilities for the seven firms most likely to discover an effective vaccine, well aware that in the end only one or two will actually use their facilities.

Once treatments and vaccines prove demonstrably effective, the next necessary step will be for the companies, laboratories, universities and scientists involved in discovering them, aided by grants like those of the Gates Foundation, to put off financial gain and make their products available immediately worldwide. Profit can wait until in years to come, to prevent a resurgence of the horror, people are being inoculated worldwide. Until then, we need that vaccination against greed.

About the Author
Albert Wachtel , a professor at Pitzer College, one of the Claremont Colleges in Southern California, and writes essays on politics, social and literary situations and short stories, often concerning Jews and Israel.
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