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.