Howard Dean Is Out Stumping For Big Pharma Patent Protection, No Matter How Many People In Poor Countries Die As A Result

from the yaaaaah! dept

If ever there was a situation that called for a circumvention of the normal patent process and lifespan, surely it would be the COVID-10 pandemic. It seems obvious that a global pandemic is the perfect situation to go beyond the normal restrictive patent protections for things like therapeutics and vaccines and instead operate from a posture of information-sharing and collaboration so that the world can get back to something resembling normalcy. Instead, products of research that are often based on publicly-funded scientific campaigns are being locked up in patent offices, fought over among patent holders, and used for pure profiteering over a public health crises. It's in that reality that we've had to witness some folks who absolutely know better, such as Senator Ben Sasse, advocate for longer patent protections for COVID-19 treatments, rather than the opposite.

But if you thought that this kind of pro-pharma shill work was limited to Republicans like Sasse, fear not oh ye both-sides-ers, because here comes Howard Dean to demonstrate that the other side of the aisle is equally capable of spewing this nonsense. Dean recently penned an op-ed pushing Joe Biden to not issue a special waiver that would allow poor countries access to produce generic COVID-19 vaccines.

HOWARD DEAN, the former progressive champion, is calling on President Joe Biden to reject a special intellectual property waiver that would allow low-cost, generic coronavirus vaccines to be produced to meet the needs of low-income countries. Currently, a small number of companies hold the formulas for the Covid-19 vaccines, limiting distribution to many parts of the world.

“IP protections aren’t the cause of vaccination delays,” Dean claimed in a column for Barron’s last month. “Every drug manufacturing facility on the planet that’s capable of churning out Covid-19 shots is already doing so.” “Creating a new medicine is a costly proposition,” wrote Dean. “Companies would never invest hundreds of millions in research and development if rivals could simply copy their drug formulas and create knockoffs.”

Even in just those two paragraphs, there is a ton to unpack. First and foremost, it's worth remembering that Dean, once considered a progressive representative in Congress, is now in the business of influencing lawmakers on behalf of large pharma companies. To be clear, Dean himself is not registered as a lobbyist... which is hilarious. He does work for Dentons, a law and lobbying firm. And, anytime the public catches wind of the potential for lowering drug prices in favor of healthcare concerns, there is Howard Dean to tell you how awful that would be.

His official role is as a senior advisor to its government affairs practice focused on corporate health care clients, though as The Intercept has previously reported, he engages in almost every lobbying activity imaginable. In the past, Dean has argued that he is not a lobbyist but has declined to discuss what he does at the firm or the identities of his clients. Neither Dean nor Dentons responded to a request for comment from The Intercept.

“He sorts of pops up whenever you argue against anything that would lower drug prices,” said James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit that works to reform intellectual property rights to expand access to medicine. “It’s appalling because he’s introduced as a progressive; he still gets on ‘Rachel Maddow,’” said Love. “But he’s on the payroll. He’s not a registered lobbyist — he somehow finds a way not to register — but he’s sort of an influencer, he’s paid to influence the debate.”

In other words, note that when Howard Dean speaks on the topic of pharmaceuticals, you should picture big pharma as the ventriloquist.

But back to Dean's original claims. The idea that patents haven't held back vaccine production and that all the possible production is currently happening is... well... it ain't fucking true.

Dean’s claim that global vaccine manufacturing is already at capacity is patently false. Foreign firms have lined up to offer pharmaceutical plants to produce vaccines but have been forced to enter into lengthy negotiations under terms set by the intellectual property owners. The waiver, however, would allow generic drug producers to begin copying the vaccine without delay.

Many of the manufacturing plants prepared to mass produce low-cost vaccines are centered in India, which has committed to supplying the poorest countries in the world. But the waiver petition, Dean wrote, “is unreasonable and disingenuous; it’s a ruse to benefit India’s own industry at the expense of patients everywhere. President Biden would be wise to reject it.”

Except that doesn't make an iota of sense. To start, generic medicines exist. And, yet, pharma companies still make the medicines that eventually go generic. What we're talking about in this instance is a waiver that would allow generic versions of patented COVID-19 vaccines far earlier than the normal patent system would allow. It's worth noting that companies like Pfizer and Moderna have already made a ton of money on vaccine contracts with various countries. Arguing that those companies wouldn't have created vaccines without the normal patent protection length is arguing that those companies would have just left all the money they've already made on the table for... reasons. As far as I'm able to tell, not making money is not the primary motive of big pharma.

But as to Dean's claim that this is harmful to "patients everywhere", tell that to the god damned underserved and poor nations currently operating with barely any vaccine distribution at all. It might be fun for Dean to non-lobby for pharma patents here in the States while citizens in poor nations literally get sick and die from COVID-19, but it damned sure isn't the progressive posture Dean is regularly lionized for. And leaving a patent waiver off the table means that some of these poorer countries will be dealing with COVID-19 for years.

The column references a proposal led by India and South Africa — joined by Kenya, Bolivia, Pakistan, and dozens of other countries — to request a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights over the creation of Covid-19 vaccines. The waiver to the World Trade Organization would allow unfettered access to the intellectual property and formulas necessary to retool factories and ramp up production of vaccines for the developing world, much of which is currently projected not to reach significant vaccination rates until as late as 2024.

And that's before you take into account that these same pharma companies Dean is non-lobbying for have promised their investors that they plan to jack up the price for these life-saving vaccines in the very near future. You know, the exact sort of thing that will diminish poorer nations' ability to vaccinate their peoples.

So, to summarize, here is what Howard Dean, progressive champion, is doing with op-eds like this. He is shilling for big pharma companies' ability to control manufacturing of vaccines to help end a global pandemic through strict patent control in a manner that will keep poorer countries from having the vaccine sooner than they would otherwise. If Biden did issue the waiver, it would mean that more people in the world would get vaccinated sooner. Uncomfortable as it might be to hear, this in turn means that whatever the literal body-count Dean's advocacy would generate might be, it would certainly not be zero. People will die due to this. And, if you're into pure self-interest and are reading this from a wealthy nation now getting vaccines rolled out relatively quickly, failing to vaccinate poorer nations could easily result in wider COVID-19 spread, which in turn could easily lead to the evolution of new variants that could get around the vaccines we have today.

Dean's advocacy is a literal threat to the world, is my point. And if you think that I'm exaggerating that point, you aren't paying attention to the news.

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Filed Under: access to medicine, big pharma, covid, covid vaccines, howard dean, patents


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  • icon
    Thad (profile), 9 Apr 2021 @ 10:19am

    I'm old enough to remember when the press acted like Howard Dean was some kind of far-left radical.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 9 Apr 2021 @ 3:24pm

      Re:

      That was never "the press." Dean was a centrist, like every Dem candidate since Carter. He was just painted as a radical liberal by Republicans, because that's what Republicans do to every Dem candidate, no matter how idiotic it is (see also, both Clintons, Dukakis, Obama, Biden, and even Gore on everything not related to the environment).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2021 @ 1:25pm

        Re: Re:

        From the Republican dictionary:

        "radical" - n - : A thing that doesn't hold our political opinions.

        "idiotic" - a - : Derogative used against Republicans when their decrees are rejected.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Apr 2021 @ 2:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Too flattering. Their new definition, after 2012 or so, has been that "radical" and "idiotic" is "anything that isn't currently us".

          View the way the republican initiative of the "affordable care act" became, to the GOP, selling the american citizenry to death squads when it was pushed by the democrats, and given the nickname of "Obamacare".

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2021 @ 10:57am

    "Dean's advocacy is a literal threat to the world". Daaaaaamn, Tim, stop holding back. Tell us how you really feel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      BG (profile), 12 Apr 2021 @ 7:48am

      Re:

      He's an actual threat to the lives of men, women and children that he has never met, let alone knows their names. Their only crime is not being rich enough (and morally bereft enough apparently) to afford his services.

      I'm not sure which is worse, that he knows what the logical consequences of what his "victory" will look like and still continues, or he has never bothered to actually consider what the logical consequences would look like.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2021 @ 11:08am

    COVID-10 pandemic

    Someone woke up today in an alternate universe. And not even one of the good ones!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2021 @ 11:10am

    And leaving a patent waiver off the table means that some of these poorer countries will be dealing with COVID-19 for years.

    As will the US, unless it can seal of those countries at the border.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2021 @ 11:39am

    Pharma wants 1) to sell top-price vaccines to everyone, but since the rollout will be slower than if any facility can manufacture them, we get to point 2) they want a reservoir of covid so that eventually mutations require the development of new vaccines. Rinse (optional), repeat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 9 Apr 2021 @ 11:57am

    I'm sorry but any patent on a vaccine for a world spanning epidemic should never exist. In no way does that patent promote science or the useful arts, it's getting people killed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Apr 2021 @ 11:59am

    Telling and monstrously evil priorities there

    But the waiver petition, Dean wrote, “is unreasonable and disingenuous; it’s a ruse to benefit India’s own industry at the expense of patients everywhere. President Biden would be wise to reject it.”

    The 'industry' in question being the companies that would be making a Covid vaccine to keep people from dying which you'd think would be the greater priority, but I guess if you work for the pharma industry sociopathy and a willingness to always put profits before lives is a requirement these days.

    Acting as a corporate fluffer without actually registering as one shows how dishonest he is, and his argument here shows that he's also willing to argue against access to life saving medicines if that access would mean less money for his owners. Truly a charming example of a person.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2021 @ 1:42pm

      Re: Telling and monstrously evil priorities there

      I guess if you work for the pharma industry sociopathy and a willingness to always put profits before lives is a requirement these days.

      To be fair, that's pretty much true of any US industry, not just pharma. The US brazenly runs around decreeing that the only duty a company has is to it's own shareholders. I.e. It's profits. They give no consideration of society or the communities they operate in unless forced to, and we all know how the US politicians feel about forcing companies to do anything.

      Essentially, the US is a monster because of their warped societal expectations. Focusing on nothing but money. It should be no wonder why the US is in the state that it is, but somehow USians still think that profit is the only support pillar needed to maintain their society. Then they see stories like this one, get outraged for a split second as that nagging voice in their heads desperately tries to remind them of basic empathy for others, and then just quickly forget about it. As actually fixing their society would require actual sacrifices USians aren't willing to make.

      Honestly, the rest of the world should just ignore the US on this issue. (As well as many other things, but that's a conversation for another day.) The COVID pandemic is something that no one group should be trying to profiteer off of, and shame on the US for attempting to do so. Lives matter more than profits, and that should be the only statement that the rest of the world should make to the US on this issue. As they take the US vaccines and spread them as far and as quickly as humanly possible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Apr 2021 @ 2:49am

      Re: Telling and monstrously evil priorities there

      "The 'industry' in question being the companies that would be making a Covid vaccine to keep people from dying which you'd think would be the greater priority, but I guess if you work for the pharma industry sociopathy and a willingness to always put profits before lives is a requirement these days."

      Welcome to the most glaring indictment of "Imaginary Property" possible - Medical patents. Where the inherent bullshit around IP abuse has a cost in actual lives rather than just protectionism.

      As I recall this shit comes around every time there's a massive humanitarian tragedy. Big pharmaceuticals, spearheaded by Pfizer, shedding crocodile tears over their profits while an AIDS epidemic decimates Africa or easily treatable diseases kills 20,000 children in India because a vaccine which costs a dollar to make per dose is sold at 300 dollar per dose.

      Last time this happened the WTO built "compulsive licensing" into international IP law, over the tortured scream of the US pharmaceutical industry, and we can only hope this happens here as well.

      Martin Shkreli was not an aberration. Every pharma CEO thinks in this way. It's a job you don't take unless you're willing to pay for your profits with the lives of unrelated people.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 9 Apr 2021 @ 12:39pm

    Howard Dean

    Howard Dean seems hell-bent on throwing away every single bit of goodwill he earned as both a presidential candidate and a chairman of the DNC. He's arguably worse than Chris Dodd in this aspect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2021 @ 2:17pm

    Patents and Health

    It's funny how patents are pushed as a mechanism that promotes progress... by apparently making sure that the holder can profit from it... but, when it comes to health, profit isn't the only benefit... if fact, it's an ancillary benefit; the real benefit is the improvement to ones health.

    If anything, patents slow down improving everyone's health in favor of making more money... and it's at the cost of the health of some (or most)

    I have never like the idea that profits are generated from health care efforts... the payoff is the improvement of health, not money... of course, those folks that don't suffer some sort of health ailment will not understand, since they likely take their health for granted so healthcare really is just a profit source for them :(

    ... another thing to chew on... we look down on price extortion when there's an emergency and even clean water is limited, but extortion is just part of the process when it comes to healthcare

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2021 @ 10:46pm

      Re: Patents and Health

      The theory was that the profit motive would convince patent holders to innovate, market, and do what they can to make the most of the twenty years when the patent applies. Of course, what that ended up doing was convince people that doing something good once, then spend the rest of the 20 years going after people for patent infringement lawsuits, was far easier and far more profitable than actually contributing to progress.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Crafty Coyote, 9 Apr 2021 @ 6:09pm

    Not only am I going to want us to patent the Pfizer vaccine, Tom Harkin, but I'm also going to want the Moderna one, as well. And we'll need a patented Johnson and Johnson vaccine. And the Covavax one! And the Sputnik Vaccine. And Convidecia! ANDSINOVAX NEEDS A PATENT!

    AND THEN WE'RE GOING TO PATENT THE VACCINES BEING USED AT THE WHITE HOUSE! YEEEEEEEAAAAAAGGGGHHH! (fist pump)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2021 @ 9:36am

    Won't someone please think of the poor multinational pharmaceutical corporations? They'll lose out on billions on dollars!

    Now, I do understand the need for low-income countries to get more vaccines quickly, but they should pay up! It's their government's fault for not coughing up the money and their people's fault for voting for their politicians. I will not support pirates who think that it is alright to steal poor Pfizer's vaccine!

    Someone, somewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2021 @ 2:42pm

    Ewww someone needs to turn their TV off. While the mood is up and up on this article the point should be I dont need nor want a "vaccine".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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