Covid-19: New variant emerges but same old capitalist disease

Novel coronavirus Covid-19, photo NIH/CC

New Covid-19 variants are inevitable but the threat to world health comes from profit-driven capitalism.

Early reports indicate the Omicron variant is more infectious than Delta. It is not yet known whether Omicron infection is more severe, or whether vaccination is as protective, but action can’t wait to find out.

More infectious variants are likely where Covid is spreading quickly because most people aren’t immune. The longer the delay for people in poorer countries to be vaccinated, the more likely resistant and more infectious variants will emerge, quickly spreading round the world.

Rich countries are sitting on almost one billion unused doses, while some poorer countries have not yet received vaccines they have paid for.

Shareholders in ‘Big Pharma’ are banking huge profits from these life-saving vaccines, developed at unprecedented speed with massive subsidies from public funds.

The World Trade Organisation’s 1994 ‘Trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights agreement’ (TRIPS) lets big business keep control over knowledge that should benefit everyone on the planet.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, described the call to share vaccine recipes as ‘dangerous nonsense’. EU and UK governments have blocked a temporary TRIPS suspension during the pandemic.

Pfizer expects to sell $33 billion of its vaccine this year, at a profit rate in ‘the high 20 percent range’. Pfizer and BioNTech have delivered less than 1% of their total vaccine supplies to low-income countries. Moderna has delivered just 0.2%. These three companies received over $8 billion from taxpayers. They’re making over $93 million profit every day.

The pharmaceutical industry must be taken out of profiteers’ hands and democratically planned as a global public service. Scientists, engineers and health workers could then be rapidly mobilised to ensure vaccine production and delivery is speeded up where it is desperately needed.

Johnson protects big business

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, announced masks will become mandatory again in shops and on public transport – a necessary public health measure. But, as throughout this pandemic, employers have been let off the hook. Responsibility to stop the virus spreading is left with workers themselves.

Trade union health and safety committees should demand all workplaces, schools, hospitals and public venues are adequately ventilated, with carbon dioxide monitoring. Air filtration units can remove viral particles and should be installed. ‘FFP2’ masks, protecting the wearer as well as cutting the risk to others, should be issued.

Employers and councils must pay. If companies claim they can’t afford it, open their financial books to see why. Nationalise the big companies, subsidise small businesses and reverse council cuts.

Chronically low vaccination rates

Omicron was found first in Southern Africa. 11% have been fully vaccinated in Mozambique and Namibia, 20% in Botswana, and 24% in South Africa. In Malawi it’s only 3%, Uganda 1.94%, Yemen 1.16%, DR of Congo 0.06% and Burundi 0.00%.

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December 2021