Toronto Star, June 2, 2021
Hard to believe now, but in the first few months of the pandemic it looked like the world was going to act together to develop a “people’s vaccine.”
Given the scope and urgency of the looming crisis in February 2020, hundreds of global health experts and researchers converged for two intense days at the Geneva headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) where they drew up extensive plans for pooling global scientific knowledge in order to expedite the quest for a vaccine.
Their plan amounted to a bold rejection of the usual pharmaceutical model where drug companies carry out research behind proprietary walls, jealously guarding their “intellectual property” as they race to get a patent, which will give them a monopoly on their new product.
Instead, the urgent plan drawn up at WHO headquarters by some of the world’s top infectious disease experts was based on a concept rarely seen in the ultra-lucrative world of pharmaceutical drugs — co-operation in the interests of creating a public good.
But, in the grim winter and early spring of 2020, governments around the world were sufficiently scared of the deadly new virus that they seemed willing to embrace such a radical scheme — even over the objections of Big Pharma.
“The early days featured tantalizing glimpses of an open-science, co-operative pandemic response,” notes Alexander Zaitchik, author of the forthcoming book “Owning the Sun: A People’s History of Monopoly Medicine, from Aspirin to COVID-19.”
But the inspiring plan devised by the scientists — which promised to create a vaccine essentially belonging to the world’s people, not to corporate shareholders — was crushed fairly decisively when Bill Gates ventured into the fray.
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