The immediate answer to this question is that a set of very powerful firms owe their monopolistic positions and thus high profits to the protection of their patents and copyrights. These include the pharmaceutical firms, information technology firms, and many others.
The immediate answer to this question is that a set of very powerful firms owe their monopolistic positions and thus high profits to the protection of their patents and copyrights. These include the pharmaceutical firms, information technology firms, and many others.
Not only have they been able to exercise their power to preserve patent and copyright laws—i.e., preserve their monopolies and profits—but they have been able to extend these laws internationally and increase the number of years that their patents and copyrights remain in force. Indeed, on the international level, the protection of trade-related aspects of international property rights (TRIPS) has been a major part of so-called “free trade” agreements —with representatives of the firms writing relevant parts of these agreements. (Don’t miss the irony of “free trade” agreements being designed to protect monopolies.)
The close relationship between pharmaceuticals and government policy derives in part from their industry being one of the largest in terms of lobbying expenditures. Also, there is the revolving door between the industry and the government, illustrated by the activities of Sally Susman, a top officer at Pfizer. In the 1990s, Susman worked for the Senate Finance Committee and then the Department of Commerce, where she focused on international trade issues. In the more recent decades, she has been a major fundraiser for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and for other Democratic candidates—and has become a leader of lobbying for her firm and the pharmaceutical industry.
Just as important as the power that the firms wield through money and connections, the protection of the firms’ profits has long been enhanced by the widespread belief that patents and copyrights are an inducement to technological progress, which benefits society at large over the long run. (More on this below.) Raw power, buttressed by this widespread belief, has made government reluctant to act against these high-riding firms—even when the economy in general might suffer immediate damage. It may be wrong and venal, but it’s not stupid.
There is, however, good news—since the study from the ICC and the Oxfam press release were issued earlier this year, the U.S. government has agreed to a temporary suspension of patent restrictions that could make Covid-19 vaccinations more widely available in low-income countries. The bad news is that this step by the U.S. government, however welcome, is not nearly enough. The European Union and some other high-income countries are not going along with the suspension of patent restrictions, and, according to the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO)—the enforcer of those “free trade” agreements—the suspension would require unanimous consent. Further, lifting patent restrictions would be effective only if the companies currently producing the vaccines share their technological know-how with producers in low-income countries.
Sources: Miriam Valverde, “How Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are tied to Operation Warp Speed,” Politifact, November 12, 2020 (politifact.com); Riley Griffin and Drew Armstrong, “Pfizer Vaccine’s Funding Came From Berlin, Not Washington,” Bloomberg News, November 9, 2020 (bloomberg.com).
Although the WTO director-general has expressed the hope of getting a favorable consensus by December, as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied—even if a December consensus is obtained, millions will die due to the delay in getting the vaccines to people in low-income countries.
Yet, the delay involves more than deaths. While the humanitarian impact is severe, there is also the economic impact mentioned in the ICC study, and not just in the counties where Covid-19 continues to be rampant. Globalization has greatly increased the economic ties among countries—traditional exports, imports, and investments, often involving complex supply chains. Businesses in high-income countries have become increasingly dependent on the well-being of the entire global economy. The production of the vaccines provides an example. According to The Economist, “Pfizer’s vaccine requires 280 inputs from suppliers in 19 countries.”
The study from the ICC examines the network of economic ties among countries and estimates how the lack of vaccinations in many parts of the world will impact the entire system. The study is dependent on many assumptions, and the authors present several alternative scenarios, each based on different assumptions. It is clear, however, that major economic costs to the rich countries could be substantial, even when the virus is effectively limited within their own borders.
And, of course, the spread of the pandemic in countries with low levels of vaccination could lead to the generation of virus variants that are not readily controlled by existing vaccines. These variants would surely spread to the rich countries, causing a new surge with much more humanitarian and economic impacts. The ICC study does not consider this type of event.
The protection of intellectual property rights through patents, whatever its impact on GDP in the United States, appears to work well for the pharmaceutical companies. On average, firms in the pharmaceutical industry have profit rates (return on invested capital) at least 50% higher than the average of (nonfinancial) publicly traded firms across the economy.
The suspension of patent protections, even a temporary suspension of a particular patent, is a threat to the pharmaceuticals’ profits. The firms have operated under “rules of the game” that have been very favorable. A change of those rules opens the door to an undermining of their position. Suspension of a patent protection is, from their perspective, a “slippery slope,” which can have major—for them negative—consequences.
But, of course, the pharmaceutical companies and their supporters don’t argue their position by making a direct appeal to maintain their monopolistic profits. Instead, they claim that the protection of intellectual property rights (their patents) is necessary to create an incentive for technological progress, a payment for the risks they take in developing new medicines. The firms, the argument goes, will not undertake the risks of developing new drugs (vaccines and others) unless they can count on substantial profits when they succeed. A spokesperson for the German government, which has been opposing the suspension of the vaccine patents, stated, “The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”
Reality, however, tends not to support this argument. First of all, the development of medicines has long depended on heavy expenditures by the government, providing billions of dollars over the years supporting basic research through the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, and other government agencies. Years of government-funded research (mRNA research) led to the basis of the Covid-19 vaccine technology. The pharmaceuticals built on this research to create the vaccines and then claimed the patents.
Further, there was the several billion dollars that the U.S. government provided directly to pharmaceuticals for the development of Covid-19 vaccines, under Operation Warp Speed. A listing of what the companies received is provided in the sidebar. This support, along with the long-term government funding of basic research, greatly reduced (if it did not eliminate) the companies’ risks. Also, there is a basis to argue that the extension and protection of intellectual property rights actually inhibits innovation. New ideas are built on old ideas, but, if old ideas are patented and not shared, they cannot be built on.
Microsoft’s development, for example, depended on building on old ideas, but then it controlled its new ideas, limiting further innovation. There are many historical cases of innovation without patents. The economic historian David Landes relates how medieval Europe was “one of the most inventive societies that history has known,” without patents—providing, as examples, the water wheel, eyeglasses, and the mechanical clock.
Perhaps the best argument against the sorts of protection we now have for intellectual property and for patent suspension in the current pandemic is provided by the following two quotations.
When asked who held the patent for the polio vaccine that he had developed, Jonas Salk replied: “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
The most famous inventor in U.S. history, Benjamin Franklin, declined to obtain patents for his various devices, offering this explanation in his autobiography: “That as we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of Others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”
Taken From: http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2021/0721macewan.html
Geneva, London, 29 November 2021 – The Council of Global Union (CGU), representing over 200 million workers, has urged UK, Switzerland, Germany and the EU Commission to stop blocking efforts to waive vaccine patents. The largest council of global unions believe action must and can be taken this week to urgently enable vaccine production in the Global South.
The demand from unions for a World Trade Organisation (WTO) waiver on intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines comes as the new Omicron variant emerges from countries which have been denied the right to produce their own vaccines. It also comes amidst renewed momentum and urgency from world leaders, with President Biden and the European Parliament – the only EU institution elected by citizens – reiterating their calls for intellectual property waivers on vaccines.
Governments were set to meet at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva this week, now postponed because of risks posed by Omicron, to decide on whether a waiver on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) – the world’s most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property – would finally be approved for Covid vaccines and supplies.
To secure the waiver, the TRIPS Council can be convened at any time to put forward a written proposal for the WTO General Council to formalise. Such a waiver was first proposed by South Africa and India in October 2020 and now has the backing of over 100 nations. This proposal has been blocked by only a handful of wealthy countries including the UK, Switzerland and Germany, where major pharmaceutical companies are headquartered.
Despite the postponement, governments can still take immediate action to approve the waiver this week. WTO Director General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted that negotiations must continue and delegates “should be fully empowered to close as many gaps as possible” as “this new variant reminds us once again of the urgency of the work we are charged with.”
Unions believe that if the UK, Switzerland and Germany stand down from their opposition to the TRIPS waiver, the lifting of patents, alongside undisclosed information protection and technology transfer, we can vaccinate the world. The CGU cites an Oxford University study which demonstrates a pathway for the global community to establish regional centers capable of producing eight billion doses of vaccine by May 2022 to help end the pandemic.
Stephen Cotton, Chair of the CGU, and General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), said: “I speak directly to the Heads of State for the UK, Germany and Switzerland when I say this: your decisions are putting millions of lives and livelihoods at risk. The world is watching you, as panic and anxiety spread at the rise of a new variant that may have been prevented if you had acted sooner. The waiver can be agreed this week, you must act now or forever hold the preventable deaths of millions more on your conscience.”
Over 4 million people have died from Covid-19 since the waiver was first proposed. The Biden Administration, which has given away more doses than all other governments combined, made clear in a statement last week that the TRIPS waiver is an urgent and essential next step to end the pandemic.
Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (PSI), added: “A handful of leaders are putting the interests of the pharma lobby ahead of the frontline workers they once applauded. This is an insult to their sacrifice. If the leaders of the UK, Switzerland and EU nations want to break the cycle of lockdowns and travel blocks, then they must immediately stop blocking the TRIPS waiver proposal so no barriers stand in the way of expanding vaccine production and quashing new variants.”
See full CGU statement here: Global workers call for universal access to Covid-19 vaccines and health products and technologies, governments must act urgently
Contact details: Shona Karp / firstname.lastname@example.org / 07939588620
The International Monetary Fund recently warned that inadequate access to vaccines could lead to global GDP losses of $5.3 trillion over the next five years. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical corporations are now making over $1,000,000 in pre-tax profits every 15 minutes. In the UK, Astrazeneca announced plans to shift to a for-profit model for their vaccine, despite the fact that 97% of the funds for its development came from public sources.
About the CGU
The Council of Global Unions (CGU) is the partnership between the International Trade Union Confederation, Global Union Federations and the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD that represents over 200 million workers. The current Chair of the CGU is Stephen Cotton (ITF) and the Secretary is Sharan Burrow (ITUC).
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting almost 700 trade unions from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. ITF is the voice for nearly 20 million working women and men in the transport industry globally.
Public Services International (PSI) is a Global Union Federation of more than 700 trade unions representing 30 million workers in 154 countries. We bring their voices to the UN, ILO, WHO and other regional and global organisations. PSI defends trade union and workers’ rights and fights for universal access to quality public services.
Additional information on the vaccine roll-out:
Taken From: https://www.itfglobal.org/en/news/global-unions-join-biden-eu-parliament-in-call-urgent-waiver-vaccine-patents-tackle-dangerous
In a decision handed down on Monday, the 1st Appellate District in the Court of Appeal for California rejected Monsanto’s bid to overturn the trial loss in a case brought by husband-and-wife plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod.
“We find that substantial evidence supports the jury’s verdicts,” the court stated. “Monsanto’s conduct evidenced reckless disregard of the health and safety of the multitude of unsuspecting consumers it kept in the dark. This was not an isolated incident; Monsanto’s conduct involved repeated actions over a period of many years motivated by the desire for sales and profit.”
The court specifically rejected the argument that federal law preempts such claims, an argument Bayer has told investors offers a potential path out of the litigation. Bayer has said it hopes it can get the U.S. Supreme Court to agree with its preemption argument.
In May 2019 a jury awarded the Pilliods more than $2 billion in punitive and compensatory damages after lawyers for the couple argued they both developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma caused by their many years of using Roundup products.
The trial judge lowered the combined award to $87 million.
In appealing the loss, Monsanto argued not only that the Pilliod claims were preempted by federal law, but also that the jury’s causation findings were flawed, the trial court should not have admitted certain evidence, and that “the verdict is the product of attorney misconduct.” Monsanto also wanted the damage awards further slashed.
In the appeals court decision, the court left the award unchanged, and said that Monsanto had not shown that federal law did preempt such claims as those made by the Pilliods. The court also said there was substantial evidence that Monsanto acted with a “willful and conscious disregard for the safety of others,” supporting the awarding of punitive damages.
The evidence showed that Monsanto “failed to conduct adequate studies on glyphosate and Roundup, thus impeding discouraging, or distorting scientific inquiry concerning glyphosate and Roundup,” the court said.
The court also chastised Monsanto for not accurately presenting “all of the record evidence” in making its appeal: “But rather than fairly stating all the relevant evidence, Monsanto has made a lopsided presentation that relies primarily on the evidence in its favor. This type of presentation may work for a jury, but it will not work for the Court of Appeal.”
The court added: “The trial described in Monsanto’s opening brief bears little resemblance to the trial reflected in the record.”
“Summed up, the evidence shows Monsanto’s intransigent unwillingness to inform the public about the carcinogenic dangers of a product it made abundantly available at hardware stores and garden shops across the country,” the court said.
The Pilliod trial was the third against Monsanto. In the first trial, a unanimous jury awarded plaintiff Dewayne Johnson $289 million; the plaintiff in the second trial was awarded $80 million.
The fourth trial began last week. A jury of seven men and five women on Monday were hearing testimony in the case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto in the Superior Court of San Bernardino County in California. Retired U.S. government scientist Christopher Portier, who has been an expert witness for the plaintiffs in prior Roundup trials, testified at length on Monday, reiterating previous testimony that there is clear scientific evidence showing glyphosate and glyphosate-based formulations such as Roundup can cause cancer.
Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has settled several other cases that were scheduled to go to trial over the last two years. And in 2020, the company said it would pay roughly $11 billion to settle about 100,000 existing Roundup cancer claims. Late last month, Bayer said it would set aside another $4.5 billion toward Roundup litigation liability.
Bayer also announced it would stop selling Roundup, and other herbicides made with the active ingredient glyphosate, to U.S. consumers by 2023. But the company continues to sell the products for use by farmers and commercial applicators.Monsanto Roundup Trial TrackerBayer, cancer, courts, environment, EPA, FIFRA, Food, glyphosate, herbicides, Monsanto, non-Hodgin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pesticides, RoundUp, trial, weed killer
Taken From: https://usrtk.org/monsanto-roundup-trial-tracker/another-setback-for-bayer-appeals-court-rejects-company-bid-to-overturn-loss-in-pilliod-trial/?fbclid=IwAR1uwdNwxTgQ_TBQeIduU4IGxyEP-YLJvopG8zai0MI3an7oqX9zEB_HCrU
There’s one big thing the Biden administration could do to beat back the global pandemic: urge the World Trade Organization to waive patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines. To date, it hasn’t done that, despite calls from India, South Africa, and 100 other mainly low- and middle-income countries represented in the WTO. Instead, protections for patent-holders in the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, or TRIPS, prevent such countries from manufacturing the vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer, among others, and which are now being administered to the populations of wealthier nations.
Polling released Thursday morning, however—conducted by Data for Progress on behalf of the Progressive International, which brings together left-leaning movements and thinkers from around the world—finds that a majority of people in the United States support waiving patent protections on the vaccines. As WTO signatory nations prepare to gather and discuss such demands on May 5, the administration will now have to decide whether it stands with its constituents and lower-income countries worldwide or with pharmaceutical companies.
Sixty percent of likely voters want President Biden to support calls for a TRIPS suspension from low- and middle-income countries at the WTO, according to the new poll, including 72 percent of registered Democrats and 50 percent of registered Republicans. Thirty-six percent of Republicans polled disagree, compared with just 28 percent of likely voters overall.
Nearly 40 percent of vaccines administered so far have been distributed in 27 wealthy nations that represent just 11 percent of the world’s population. Many poor and middle-income countries may not have the required vaccination rates for herd immunity until 2024. Just 1 percent of Africans have been vaccinated, compared with 36 percent of North Americans and 22 percent of Europeans. The WHO has endorsed lifting patent protections, as well, in line with calls for a free and universally accessible “people’s vaccine” that reflects the ample public-sector funding that has created the vaccines. Nearly 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have reportedly signed on to a letter urging the administration to support a waiver, joined by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the Senate.
“This virus does not respect borders,” Sanders said in an emailed press statement. “The bottom line is, the faster we help vaccinate the global population, the safer we will all be. That should be our number one priority, not maximizing the profits of pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders.”
In advance of the WTO General Council meeting next month, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has been meeting with both drugmakers and waiver advocates. While she reportedly committed to “increasing the production and distribution of vaccines,” she hasn’t signaled any clear intention as of yet that the U.S. will change its position on patents in the WTO. In addition to members of Congress, 175 former, hardly left-wing world leaders and Nobel laureates are urging the White House to do just that, calling a WTO waiver “a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine knowhow and technology is shared openly.” Officially, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is still “evaluating the efficacy of this specific proposal by its true potential to save lives.”
There are some signals the administration may be warming to the idea. In remarks to a virtual conference on vaccine equity Wednesday, Tai acknowledged that “there are many aspects of the institution of the WTO and its rules that have not adapted to a changed world.… We hope to hear more today about how the market once again has failed in meeting the health needs of developing countries.”
As Alexander Zaitchik detailed for The New Republic this month, billionaire Bill Gates has been instrumental in the push to place patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines, acting against efforts by the WHO to get companies and governments to pool intellectual property related to novel coronavirus vaccines and treatments to speed global pandemic response. Gates’s patent-friendly alternative has failed to meet even its modest goal for access, which was defined as vaccinating just one-fifth of populations in participating low- and middle-income countries. The track record for private property rights enabling a speedy response to diseases is dismal. As Zaitchik notes, public pressure in the 1990s eventually forced the Clinton administration to drop its high-profile campaign in support of a lawsuit from pharmaceutical companies looking to block global south countries—then gripped by a horrific HIV/AIDS epidemic—from producing cheap, generic antiretroviral drugs that were by that point widespread in the U.S.
Though companies can now produce generic versions of vaccines under compulsory licensing agreements, developing countries have been reticent to do so—including during this pandemic—for fear of diplomatic blowback. “Historically, the U.S. has always threatened countries that have used it,” Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz told the Financial Times. “So we’ve agreed to it, but we undermine it.”
As is worth reiterating, the case for lifting patent protections in the Covid crisis is particularly strong. As long as large populations remain unvaccinated, the virus will keep evolving, raising the likelihood that variants will emerge against which current vaccines are less effective. Aside from being the right thing to do, vaccinating everyone as quickly as possible is in everyone’s best interest.
There’s a startlingly close parallel when it comes to the climate crisis, as well. Low- and middle-income countries vulnerable to climate change have long seen intellectual property as a key barrier to scaling up clean energy. Allowing companies to hoard patents—and charge extortionate rents for the right to produce life-saving green technology—stands to slow down a global energy transition and potentially empower a new class of patent holders to dole out green energy only to those who can afford it. Emissions, meanwhile, will keep rising.
Whether on vaccines or batteries for electric cars, rules designed to protect the profits of the few tend to come at the expense of the many.
Taken From: https://newrepublic.com/article/162049/let-countries-copy-covid-vaccines
THE U.S. PHARMACEUTICAL FIRMS behind the approved coronavirus vaccines — Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer — have quietly touted plans to raise prices on coronavirus vaccines in the near future and to capitalize on the virus’s lasting presence.
While the companies have enjoyed a boost in goodwill from the rush to develop vaccines, drug industry executives have noted, the public is still sensitive to drug pricing and the reputational risk has, so far, curtailed their ability to reap large financial rewards.
But that environment, they hope, will change once the pandemic ends: a date that drugmakers themselves reserve the right to declare. Pharmaceutical officials, speaking at recent conferences and on calls with investors, say they expect the virus will linger, morphing from a pandemic into a perennial endemic. And as Covid-19 mutations continue to spread and booster shots may be required on a regular basis, leaders from the three companies are enthusiastic about cashing in.
“As this shifts from pandemic to endemic, we think there’s an opportunity here for us,” said Frank D’Amelio, the chief financial officer for Pfizer, at a conference. Additional factors, such as the need for booster shots, present “a significant opportunity for our vaccine from a demand perspective, from a pricing perspective, given the clinical profile of our vaccine.”
Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have also pledged affordability for their vaccines for the duration of the pandemic but have indicated to investors that they plan to return to more “commercial” pricing as early as later this year.
The vaccines are already poised to be some of the most lucrative drugs of all time. The companies are expecting to bring in billions in profit this year alone, and all the major drugmakers with approved coronavirus vaccines received investments and backorders from government agencies.
The U.S. government has fully financed the research and development of several coronavirus vaccines, including those produced by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to the tune of over $2 billion. The U.S. has also provided nearly $2 billion in payments to secure doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, which was developed in partnership with BioNTech, a company that received nearly $500 million in development assistance from the German government.
PFIZER, one of the early global leaders in the vaccine race, is very clear about the enormous moneymaking opportunity they see in the vaccines. D’Amelio, the company’s CFO, spoke on a Zoom call last Thursday at the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference, to discuss the issue.
Carter Lewis Gould, an analyst with Barclays Bank, noted that Pfizer faced the particular challenges with “optics” but asked when the company could “pursue higher pricing down the road.”
The current pricing, said D’Amelio, is “clearly not being driven by what I’ll call normal market conditions, normal market forces,” but rather the “pandemic state that we’ve been in and the needs of governments to really secure doses from the various vaccine suppliers.” Once the pandemic ends, he continued, there will be “significant opportunity” for Pfizer.
The comments build on a lengthy explanation of the financials of the vaccine laid out during Pfizer’s last quarterly earnings call. During the event, Pfizer executives announced that the company’s coronavirus vaccine was projected to bring in $15 billion this year alone from sales, of which $4 billion would be purely profit. The estimate would make the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, according to observers, one of the highest-grossing pharmaceutical products of all time.
Those revenue projections are based on prices largely negotiated with governments under pandemic conditions, which could soon change. Pfizer, in its latest investor disclosures, revealed that it received advance payments for its vaccine totaling $957 million as of December 31. In the U.S., the company has agreed to a price of $19.50 per vaccine dose or $39 per patient based on a two-dose series. In the European Union, the company charges a higher rate, nearly $64 per dose. These figures, however, could increase. Pfizer’s pneumococcal vaccine, Prevnar 13, for instance, costs $200 per dose on the private market.
The company has faced calls for new price controls and to release the vaccine as a generic. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has demanded that Pfizer and other drugmakers share patents and intellectual property associated with the vaccine with the developing world in order to end the pandemic as fast as possible. The industry, through its vast network of lobbyists, has fiercely opposed the proposal, as well as similar calls for price regulations.
Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla, during the investor call, said the company had little to worry about in terms of political opposition.
“We believe the industry has generated a great deal of goodwill with Congress and public opinion through our Covid-19 treatment and vaccine efforts,” said Bourla. He added that he looked forward to working with the Biden administration and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.
LAST YEAR, many pharmaceutical companies pledged to temporarily suspend many ordinary pricing strategies in order to help end the coronavirus crisis. Moderna made waves last October when the company announced that it would not enforce certain patent rights for its vaccine. AstraZeneca, whose vaccine has been approved abroad but not yet in the U.S., promised last year to only sell its vaccine on a nonprofit basis to the developing world “during the pandemic.”
But these promises have fallen short. Pfizer has reportedly pressed Latin American governments, including Argentina, to put up sovereign assets, such as embassy buildings and military bases, as collateral to cover the costs of lawsuits related to adverse effects of the vaccine.
AstraZeneca’s promises have been undercut by leaked agreements. In its deals with local manufacturers, AstraZeneca has stated that the company reserved the right to declare the end of the pandemic for pricing purposes. The Financial Times obtained a memorandum of understanding revealing that its promise not to profit from the vaccine during the pandemic would end as soon as July 1, 2021.
Moderna has not taken any steps to share vaccine intellectual property rights, manufacturing technology, or design and has declined to participate in the World Health Organization-backed fund to distribute low-priced vaccines to the developing world.
Moderna President Stephen Hoge, speaking at the Barclays Bank conference last week, similarly made clear that his company would remain sensitive to pricing concerns around affordability during the pandemic.
“Post-pandemic, as we get into those what I will call seasonal epidemics that you would expect to happen with a SARS-CoV-2 virus, we would expect more normal pricing based on value,” said Hoge
Joseph Wolk, the executive vice president of Johnson & Johnson, speaking at the Raymond James Institutional Investors Conference this month, noted that investors could expect the company to reevaluate the vaccine for “pricing that’s much more in line with a commercial opportunity” when the pandemic is over.
Wolk noted that the end of the pandemic is a “fluid” question. The announcement, Wolk said, would come down to a percentage of people vaccinated, though he did not give any specific figures. The “pandemic period will be in place for the majority of this year, if not the entire piece of this year,” he continued, before making it clear that the declaration would be left to Johnson & Johnson.
“I think when we look at it, it’s not going to be something that’s dictated to us,” said Wolk.
The end of the pandemic may be declared by the World Health Organization or other international bodies. Drug firms, however, are not under a legal requirement to make prices based on the WHO’s determination.
Moderna and Johnson & Johnson did not respond to requests for comment regarding its pricing strategies and under what circumstances the firms would use to determine an end to the pandemic.
Asked for comment on when Pfizer would declare an end to the pandemic for pricing purposes, the firm instead released a statement from D’Amelio. “We are committed to the principle of equitable and affordable access for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people around the world,” said D’Amelio. “We have clearly stated in our public disclosures that we anticipate a pandemic phase that could last into 2022, where governments will be the primary purchasers of our vaccine.”
THE VACCINE MAKERS’ vague promises around affordability, while retaining a monopoly control of vaccine technology financed by public entities, have unsettled public health watchdogs.
Achal Prabhala — coordinator for the AccessIBSA project, which campaigns for access to medicines — notes that the U.S. government alone, through Operation Warp Speed, has pumped $18 billion into vaccine makers, in addition to advance payments for vaccines, ensuring that the pharmaceutical industry would face no financial risk.
“You know, Americans are amazed that they’re getting vaccines for free,” said Prabhala. “And of course they’re not because they’ve already paid for them once and now they’re amazed that they’re not paying for them twice.”
The pharmaceutical industry has faced declining public approval over the last decade. But the pandemic has presented a golden opportunity, noted Prabhala.
“Even though companies like Pfizer, which has not made the vaccine available to 85 percent of the world’s population, are enjoying immense popularity in the U.S. and Europe because of the fact that they got the vaccines done fast, and they seem to work well. That’s an unusually good position for pharma, they’re not used to being thought of as saviors,” he added.
But the companies have held out on drastic or even slight price increases on the vaccines, Prabhala continued, because they are managing the potential for reputational risk. “It’s pretty interesting that they are now waiting for the opportune time to raise prices once enough people have been vaccinated,” he added.
Add those two things together, and you get a hefty long-term revenue stream.
During a recent virtual investor conference (PDF) hosted by Barclays, Pfizer Chief Financial Officer Frank D’Amelio said the company sees “significant opportunity” for its COVID-19 vaccine once the market shifts from a “pandemic situation to an endemic situation.”
Right now, the market is “clearly not being driven by what I’ll call normal market conditions,” D’Amelio explained to Barclays analyst Carter Gould during the virtual event. Instead, it’s “been driven by kind of the pandemic state that we’ve been in and the needs of governments to really secure doses from the various vaccine suppliers.”
Eventually, Pfizer expects “normal market forces … will start to kick in,” D’Amelio said.
At that point “factors like efficacy, booster ability, clinical utility will basically become very important, and we view that as, quite frankly, a significant opportunity for our vaccine from a demand perspective, from a pricing perspective, given the clinical profile of our vaccine,” D’Amelio told the analyst.
RELATED: What does it take to supply COVID-19 vaccines across the globe? Here’s how the leading players are working it
Plus, Pfizer believes there will be demand for shots even after the current crisis. Citing variant concerns, Pfizer believes it’s “increasingly likely that an annual revaccination is going to take place” and that those revaccinations will be needed “for the foreseeable future,” the CFO said.
Pfizer has said it expects $15 billion in revenue from the mRNA vaccine this year, and that number could grow as the company negotiates new supply deals. At the Barclays event, D’Amelio said his company expects “return after taxes” of around 25% on the $15 billion figure, or around $3.75 billion. The CFO previously said he expects margins for the vaccine to grow over time.
On the manufacturing front, Pfizer and BioNTech have made several upgrades to their supply chains and now plan to produce 2 billion doses this year. The company is “working to improve upon that number as well,” D’Amelio said.
RELATED: Pfizer eyes higher prices for COVID-19 vaccine after the pandemic wanes: exec, analyst
In the wake of AstraZeneca’s recent supply shortfalls in Europe, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to deliver 200 million doses there in the second quarter. Pfizer also expects to ship 300 million doses to the U.S. during the first half of the year.
Aside from its COVID-19 vaccine work, Pfizer sees an opportunity to improve on current flu vaccines with mRNA technology as well as to grow the market with a higher efficacy product, D’Amelio said at the event.
Taken from: https://www.fiercepharma.com/pharma/pfizer-sees-need-for-annual-revaccinations-and-rationale-for-higher-prices-after-pandemic
More than 400 U.S. public health, faith, labor, development, human rights and other consumer groups are urging President Biden to reverse the Trump administration’s obstruction of an emergency COVID-19 waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules so that greater supplies of vaccines, treatments and test kits can be produced in as many places as possible as quickly as possible.
That COVD pandemic cannot be stopped anywhere unless vaccines, tests and treatments are available everywhere, so that variants that evade current vaccines do not develop.“Supporting this waiver is an easy way for the Biden administration to start reestablishing the United States’ standing within the international community, while also benefiting public health and economic recovery here at home,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign. “Trade rules cannot be a cudgel used to force countries into putting pharmaceutical company profits ahead of human life.”
The WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires countries to provide lengthy monopoly protections for medicines, tests, and the technologies used to produce them. While there is production capacity in every region, WTO rules block the timely and unfettered access to the formulas and technology needed to boost manufacturing.
Unless much greater volumes are produced, many people in developing nations may not get access to COVID-19 vaccines for years. This threatens millions of lives around the world, while also harming the economy and increasing the likelihood of a viral mutation that prolongs the pandemic for everyone.
Citizens Trade Campaign, Doctors Without Borders, Health GAP, Oxfam and Public Citizen organized a letter from 431 U.S. civil society organizations calling on the Biden administration to join the more than 100 countries supporting the waiver. (Hundreds of organizations from developing countries have likewise called on President Biden to do the same.)
If we want to stop COVID-19 here, we have to stop it everywhere. The world does not have time to wait for the usual, slow, and unequal distribution of treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines,” said Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health. “We can take a lesson from the global AIDS movements and make sure patent laws don’t block access to lifesaving therapies for the poor. It’s a similar story for vaccines, which in the case of COVID-19 we’re so lucky to have and in such short order.
Sharing the recipe for vaccines by pooling intellectual property and issuing global, open, and non-exclusive licenses could help scale up manufacturing and expand the number of vaccine doses made. This means instead of arguing about how to ration better we could be rationing less,” said Akshaya Kumar, director of crisis advocacy and special projects at Human Rights Watch.
Defending monopoly protection is the antithesis to the current call for COVID-19 medicines and vaccines to be treated as global public goods. In these unprecedented times, governments should act together in the interest of all people everywhere,” said Yuangiong Hu, policy co-coordinator, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Access Campaign.
Taken From: https://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/blog/2021/02/26/400-u-s-groups-call-on-president-biden-to-support-covid-19-wto-waiver/
WASHINGTON) – The Teamsters Union applauds President Biden’s efforts to reform and strengthen Buy American policies through the Made in America Executive Order signed today.
The Made in America Executive Order will set in motion a series of reforms to current federal procurement policies that are designed to eliminate the excessive and unnecessary use of foreign suppliers through trade-pact waivers. These waivers, which can be used to procure goods from 60 countries that are U.S. trade partners, have allowed billions of tax dollars to be spent overseas rather than with American suppliers.
“The Made in America Executive Order is an important step toward ensuring that our tax dollars are invested in American manufacturing which in turn, strengthens our economy,” said Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa. “American workers can out-produce and out-perform any other workforce in the world when given the opportunity. By closing loopholes and reforming the government procurement system, we can make sure American tax dollars are helping American companies and workers.”
The executive order also directs federal agencies to increase the threshold of domestic content – the percentage of a product that must be manufactured in the U.S. to qualify under Buy American law to be purchased. Enforcement of these new guidelines will fall under a new, senior-level position established under the executive order within the Office of Management and Budget. The Director of Made-in-America will oversee the implementation of all aspects of the executive order.
“President Biden is signaling his commitment to the American worker and economy with this executive order,” Hoffa said. “Buy American policies will be strengthened and enforced under these new directives and that will only benefit our economy in the long run.”
Taken from: https://teamster.org/2021/01/made-in-america-executive-order-takes-necessary-steps-toward-strengthening-economy/
Bernie Sanders put it well in his recent interview with The Nation, “We have gotten a reprieve. Democracy has gotten a reprieve with Biden’s victory. That’s all it is. We did not win a rejection of what Trump stands for. We have got to ask ourselves, ‘Why are we at a place where democracy is now so very threatened, and what do we do about it?’ That is the question that every American should be discussing.”
Trade policy is a good example of that need for real change. Since the start of the Generalized Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in 1947, trade agreements have evolved from basic rules intended to prevent conflicts. Now they are comprehensive and binding agreements designed to facilitate flows of goods, services and investment no matter what the cost to local economies, public health or our environments.
Since the early 1990s with the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the spread of bilateral and regional agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) this process has accelerated. In developing countries, those agreements locked in the trade liberalization and economic austerity programs imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund starting in the 1980s. In the United States, free trade agreements exposed the lack of any coherent industrial policy. They did so by codifying a series of changes that eviscerated manufacturing jobs and family farms while undermining local efforts to set higher human rights or public interest standards. In 2016, part of Trump’s base, especially in the areas of the country that had been decimated by these free-trade agreements, gravitated toward him because his populist messaging against NAFTA and other trade deals.
Many of Trump’s erratic tariff actions disrupted markets and livelihoods, but they reflected that frustration with the mainstream consensuses on trade. President Obama’s administration promoted the expansion of a 1990s free-trade model in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Obama administration did little to defend popular programs like Country of Origin Labeling for meat or local content requirements for renewable energy from challenges at the WTO. For decades, both Republican and Democratic administrations had embraced investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in trade agreements, a mechanism that empowers corporations to sue governments over public interest laws overriding domestic sovereignty. ISDS came to symbolize to the public the drastic overreach of trade agreements into democratic decision making. ISDS was phased out between Canada and the United States and limited with Mexico in the renegotiated NAFTA agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). After negotiations with Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the ability of labor unions to challenge abuses was expanded in the final agreement. The shaky consensus on what belongs in trade agreements had cracked.
On the other hand, under Trump, new ways to let corporations overrule the public interest emerged. The renegotiated NAFTA includes a new chapter on “Good Regulatory Practices” that expands the ability of corporate stakeholders to delay and weaken public interest rules that might interfere with their profits. It includes a new chapter on digital rights that locks in current U.S. rules just as the public and Congress are starting to grapple with the need to tighten the regulation of the companies that control data.
The USMCA also continued the attack on Canada’s dairy supply management program despite the growing public demand to limit overproduction and waste, while ensuring fair prices to allow farmers to produce healthy foods more sustainably. Furthermore, the Trump Administration did nothing to improve transparency in the trade negotiation process, and the actual content of current trade negotiations is still secret. Nonetheless, it is entirely probable that these insidious provisions are also included in the agreements that the U.S. is negotiating with the U.K. and Kenya.
President-elect Joe Biden is weighing his options on trade policy. He has stated that his first priorities will be to address the COVID-19 pandemic and start to rebuild the fragile U.S. economy. He is facing pressure from free traders in both parties who are eager to get back to business as usual. But it is a positive sign that he has pledged not to jump into any new trade deals. In a December interview with the New York Times, Biden affirmed his campaign promise for a moratorium on new trade deals, saying “I’m not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home and in our workers.”
Those investments, including his pledge to expand Buy America programs to help promote a green economy, could run into conflict with existing trade commitments. In 2019, a WTO dispute panel ruled that renewable energy policies that supported local green jobs in eight U.S. states violated international trade rules. The case was brought by India against policies promoting renewable energy that included preferences or incentives for “local content,” meaning that some aspect of the energy or fuel must be produced in that state to gain the preference.
Biden could also direct both his agriculture and trade teams to learn from Canada’s successful experience with supply management for dairy production. That program has been an inspiration for U.S. dairy farmers confronting unstable markets, overproduction and low prices. President Trump complained about the unfairness of Canada’s protection of its dairy market and called for it to be abolished. Tom Vilsack said as much in the past. Vilsack, the former Obama-era head of the Department of Agriculture, and most recently a lobbyist for big agriculture, is Biden’s controversial nominee for Secretary of Agriculture. Rather than joining demands to open up Canada’s markets, the Wisconsin Farmers Union, National Family Farm Coalition and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, among others, have pointed out that not only is the entire Canadian market too small to make any real difference in the crisis confronting U.S. dairy farmers, but, more fundamentally, that the U.S. should instead learn from the Canadian experience to curb oversupply and low producer prices in the U.S..
It’s not clear yet if the announced pause on new trade agreements includes the U.S.-U.K. deal, which by some reports is close to completion, or the U.S.-Kenya FTA, which is also under negotiation but appears to be at an earlier stage. A comprehensive moratorium on trade agreements could create space to reassess the goals for international trade. The multisectoral U.S. Citizens Trade Campaign urges Biden to “Firmly reject the failed trade model of the past by halting Trump-era trade negotiations with Kenya, the United Kingdom and within the World Trade Organization; prioritizing the creation of a new model of trade agreements in partnership with Congress and civil society organizations; and renegotiating existing trade agreements to conform with that new model.”
Moving forward with negotiations on either of these agreements absent a complete rethinking of trade policy and goals would be a huge mistake. There has been little public debate in the U.S. on the proposed trade deal with the U.K., but it could have profound implications now that the U.K. is outside the European Union. Writing about a joint submission with the U.K. network Sustain to the House of Lords, IATP senior attorney Sharon Treat, commented that, “One consequence of the U.K. leaving the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy is that the country has the opportunity to establish its own agricultural policies and farm support schemes. If the U.K. and U.S. agree to a low-standard trade deal, the U.S. will effectively further embed industrialized, climate-harming agriculture well into the future, while the U.K. will accelerate its adoption of those same destructive practices and miss out on an opportunity to chart a different, more sustainable future.
Similarly, the proposed U.S.-Kenya deal could undermine regional integration, now proceeding under the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement. The proposed deal would lock Kenya into deregulatory policies that undermine current and future regulations. For instance, U.S. biotech firms have pushed USTR to take aim at Kenya’s legislation restricting the use of GMOs and harmful pesticides. Greenpeace uncovered pressure in the trade talks to weaken Kenya’s adherence to the new protocol to the Basel Convention on toxic wastes. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, chair of the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, warned, “What they are trying to do is not good policy for Kenya or for the United States and it’s an example of where trade agreements need to be more transparent.”
The Kenya agreement also has broader implications for regional integration in Africa. The Trump administration clearly stated its intention to base this agreement on the new NAFTA, and to make that the pattern for future trade agreements across the African continent. Kenya already has substantial access to the U.S. market for its exports, primarily textiles, coffee and other agricultural goods. The Biden-Harris campaign platform includes a renewed commitment to U.S.-Africa relations based on mutually respectful engagement. An early decision by the Biden administration to halt the bilateral talks and open discussions with African nations and civil society on the elements of a different relationship on trade and development would be an important first step toward that goal.
Biden has pledged that the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Accords. That is an important step, but in recent years, trade policy has been an impediment to progress on climate change. ISDS challenges have been lodged against dozens of efforts around the world to rein in fossil fuels, including a $15 billion lawsuit brought by TransCanada against the U.S. for its rejection of the Keystone pipeline (which was resolved when Trump agreed both to move forward with the pipeline and to refrain from requiring that the construction create U.S. jobs). Citizens Trade Campaign insists that Biden, “Defend a livable future and create green jobs by prioritizing climate action in trade policy, including through the adoption and enforcement of strong, cross-border climate standards and an end to investor-state dispute settlement.”
Meaningful progress to confront the climate crisis will require difficult decisions about the terms of global trade. In addition to removing obstacles like ISDS from bilateral and regional agreements, and negotiating space in WTO rules for local job creation in renewable energy programs, there are questions about how to manage trade when countries are at different stages of a transition to cleaner production. The European Union is already considering the use of a Carbon Border Adjustment Measure (CBAM), which would tax carbon-intensive goods at the border to reduce the temptation to avoid stringent environmental standards through imports and to ensure local businesses can compete while lowering their emissions. The idea behind CBAM is both to discourage offshoring of polluting industries and to encourage cleaner domestic production. The initial proposals cover steel, cement and coal, but there are proposals to extend those rules to other products, potentially including meat and other agricultural goods. Biden’s campaign proposals include similar measures for a carbon tariff.
Even beyond the difficult technical issues around how to measure and compare emissions (and at which stage of production), the unilateral imposition of a carbon border measure raises fundamental questions of fairness. This becomes even clearer in the absence of adequate funding or technology transfer for developing countries to make transitions to cleaner production methods while also bolstering their local economies. This too will require honest, respectful conversations with other countries about the best ways to achieve those goals.
Biden has clearly stated his intention to return to multilateralism, to rebuild ties with allies around the world. Much of that will undoubtedly involve talks with those allies on the best way to reengage with China. The WTO is at an impasse, both because of the Trump administration’s refusal to name jurists to the WTO’s dispute resolution mechanism and because of political resistance among many WTO members to the overreach of international trade rules into finance, services, agriculture and other sectors. This too will require an admission that the idea of business as usual is exactly the wrong idea for this moment. It will require learning from innovative local and national solutions to pressing world problems and considering how those solutions could actually be supported by trade policy.
And perhaps that’s the fundamental issue. Biden has said the U.S. should lead, but really, it should learn to listen.
Taken from https://rosalux.nyc/hopes-for-new-beginnings-us-trade-policy/
The Trump administration, in its never-ending quest to reduce regulations on the agriculture industry, has unilaterally implemented a new rule that affects egg producers.
This new rule dramatically reduces the amount of time inspectors spend in egg production facilities, and will benefit large egg producers like Cal-Maine and Rose Acre.
The USDA announced the new rule in a press release on Wednesday, but that press release does not specifically mention what might be the most important part of it. In the release, the USDA says that this is the first change to egg inspection methods since the Egg Products Inspection Act was passed in 1970, and that the rule will make inspections of eggs closer to those of meat and poultry.
It does not mention that the major thrust of the rule is to reinterpret the phrase “continuous inspection,” which, as part of the 1970 law, has required a USDA inspector to be on the premises during the entirety of egg processing actions. Instead, the new rule will have fewer inspectors who make multiple stops per day, traveling between egg processing plants to visit once per shift, as reported by Reuters.
This traveling, once-per-shift visit system has been in place for meat and poultry, but has not been met with widespread acclaim. Investigations have shown that this system has resulted in a shortage of inspectors, and when any one of those inspectors is sick or on vacation, others are forced to cover untenably large shifts. This is part of a large pattern, as reported by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, of reducing oversight and allowing large processing corporations to have advanced warning.
The new rule will also have egg producers develop their own safety plans; the USDA says this will provide more flexibility for individual plants. Investigations from Food & Water Watch found that, in a pilot program for swine plants using a similar system, there was inadequate oversight and a very high violation rate for serious issues, like contamination with feces.
Egg producers have encountered a mixed bag during the COVID-19 pandemic, with record (sometimes allegedly illegal) high prices and sales in grocery stores, but record lows in unshelled categories, as a result of decreased demand from hotels and restaurants.
Taken From: https://modernfarmer.com/2020/09/usda-reduces-oversight-of-egg-industry/?fbclid=IwAR2nOPQFlYs1w_smponC45UsdjmE4WEX5bQ-Du_ribQSY44hheYDrSBN7KQ
N95s were designed to be thrown away after every patient. By this July afternoon, Williams had been wearing the same one for more than two months.
BALTIMORE — The patient exhaled. She lifted her tongue for a thermometer. She raised her finger for a blood sugar test, and that’s when she started coughing. One cough can send 3,000 droplets into the air, one droplet can contain millions of coronavirus particles, and now some of those particles were heading for the face of emergency department nurse Kelly Williams.
The nurse inhaled. Strapped over her mouth and nose was an N95 respirator, the disposable filtering mask that has become the world’s most reliable and coveted defense against the virus.
N95s were designed to be thrown away after every patient. By this July afternoon, Williams had been wearing the same one for more than two months.
To get to her, the N95 had traveled from a British factory to a Baltimore warehouse, in a supply chain as tangled and layered as the web of microscopic fibers inside the mask’s filter.
It was purchased by Johns Hopkins Hospital, the famed medical institution that has tracked cases of the novel coronavirus around the world since the pandemic’s start. When its map of dots marking clusters of infections began to show pools of red across the United States, Hopkins was quietly unpacking a stock of personal protective equipment it had been building for over a year — a literal lifesaver when the onslaught of covid-19 cases led to a massive shortage of N95s.
Six months later, that shortage persists, leaving health-care workers exposed, patients at risk and public health experts flummoxed over a seemingly simple question: Why is the world’s richest country still struggling to meet the demand for an item that once cost around $1 a piece?
At Hopkins, nurses are asked to keep wearing their N95s until the masks are broken or visibly dirty. Williams, a 30-year-old from Georgia with a marathoner’s endurance and a nurse’s practicality, went into health care after working for three years in the corporate offices of retailers Abercrombie & Fitch and Under Armour. She understood supply chains. She believed that the makers of N95s, anticipating the pandemic’s eventual end, would invest only so much in expanding production. She believed it was her duty, on top of risking her life for her patients, to make her disposable respirator mask last through as many 12-hour shifts as she could.
When the country was short of ventilators, the companies that made them shared their trade secrets with other manufacturers. Through the powers of the Defense Production Act, President Trump ordered General Motors to make ventilators. Other companies followed, many supported by the government, until the terrifying problem of not enough ventilators wasn’t a problem at all.
But for N95s and other respirators, Trump has used this authority far less, allowing major manufacturers to scale up as they see fit and potential new manufacturers to go untapped and underfunded. The organizations that represent millions of nurses, doctors, hospitals and clinics are pleading for more federal intervention, while the administration maintains that the government has already done enough and that the PPE industry has stepped up on its own.
As the weather cools and the death toll climbs, America’s health-care workers fear that when winter comes, they still won’t have enough respirators. And the longer the shortage lasts, the longer N95s will remain largely out of reach for millions of others who could be protected by them — teachers and day-care workers, factory employees and flight attendants, restaurant servers and grocery store clerks.
While the pandemic that has killed almost 200,000 Americans drags on, Williams will keep trying to conserve her respirator, wearing it as she rushes in and out of virus-filled rooms, touches virus-shedding patients, and now, comforts a covid-positive woman who is having a coughing fit.
“How can I help you feel a little more comfortable?” Williams asked her patient, who was in her 80s. The woman was about to be admitted to the hospital. Her oxygen level was too low, so they had to run tubes of air into her nostrils. If her situation didn’t improve, a ventilator could come next.
This was the routine in the part of the emergency department Williams called “Covidland.” She’d just risked exposure to care for this woman, but she would never get to find out what happened to her.
She could only take a deep breath through her N95, roll her patients upstairs and hope that she would never become one of them.
Before the N95 was on her face, it was in a plastic wrapper, in a box, on a shelf inside an East Baltimore warehouse four miles from the hospital. The 165,000-square-foot building had concrete floors, rolling doors, overhead lighting — unremarkable, except to a man named Burton Fuller.
Fuller, a 38-year-old father of three, had once planned on becoming a doctor. Instead, he ended up in working in hospital supply chains. It was the kind of job that didn’t earn many follow-up questions at dinner parties. But six months after Fuller was hired at Hopkins, the pandemic made him the person that everyone relied on and no one envied. It was up to him to keep 40,000 employees in six hospitals safe.
Even before covid-19, masks were key to that equation. There are surgical masks, which protect a patient from a nurse’s germs, and respirator masks, which protect a nurse from the patient. Humans have recognized the need for protective masks since at least A.D. 77, when Pliny the Elder wrote about wearing animal bladders as face coverings to make breathing easier in lead-filled mines.
The evolution of early masks brought leather beaks stuffed with straw and herbs to ward off the bubonic plague, and long beards that firefighters would wet and clamp between their teeth. Once the far more effective gas mask became standard for coal miners breathing in silica and soldiers facing chemical weapons, engineers at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, better known as 3M, started trying to make a protective respirator that wasn’t so bulky. They realized in the 1960s that the technology used to make pre-made gift bows could also make a mask that was a lightweight, molded cup. And so began the single-use respirator as it exists today.
Inside that cup, and more recently, inside the flat-fold versions, is the key component: fibers 1/50th the width of a human hair, blown together in an intricate web that creates an obstacle course for dangerous particles. An electrostatic charge works like a magnet to trap the floating menaces and attach them to the fibers. If an N95 is fitted properly — a metal nose piece folded snugly, no beard in the way — less than 5 percent of even the most difficult-to-catch particles will make it into the lungs.
At Hopkins, Fuller’s job was to get manufacturers to deliver N95s and other equipment directly to the warehouse, rather than through a distributor. In 2019, the shelves started to fill up, and on one of them was the N95 that would make its way to nurse Kelly Williams. The respirator had been made by 3M at a plant in Aycliffe, a town of 7,000 in northern England.
But this Hopkins stockpile was rare in the world of hospitals, where costs were cut by using medical supply companies to provide equipment when it was needed, rather than letting PPE pile up.
Hospital administrators knew that in cases of natural disaster, chemical warfare or what global health officials used to call “Disease X,” the federal government had its own warehouses in secret locations, filled with PPE.
Except that in 2009, while Fuller was in his first job out of college, the H1N1 flu epidemic depleted 85 million N95s from the national stockpile — and the supply was never replenished. In 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017, public health officials published alarming reports warning of a “massive gap” in what remained. Even more concerning, they said, the vast majority of N95s and the materials needed to manufacture them were now being made in Asia.
The Department of Health and Human Services did fund the invention of a “one-of-a-kind, high-speed machine” that could make 1.5 million N95s per day. But when the design was completed in 2018, the Trump administration did not purchase it.
This year, as the virus spread from Wuhan to Washington state, HHS turned down a January offer from a manufacturer who could to make millions of N95s. The agency didn’t start ordering N95s from multiple companies until March 21. Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at HHS, would later call that timeline “friggin’ light speed … the fastest this has ever been done.”
By then, the United States had 8,000 reported coronavirus cases and 85 deaths, and health-care workers were panicking over PPE shortages.
Fuller’s orders began being canceled. As the Hopkins emergency department was being readied for covid-19 patients, and Williams was being told she would need to start wearing an N95, the hospital’s administration decided not to reveal how many N95s were in the warehouse.
“Only a half a dozen people know,” Fuller said. “Behavioral economics say that if we communicate a number someone perceives as high, they will use the supply more gratuitously. If we communicate a number they perceive as low, they may hoard to ensure there is enough.”
As the boxes of N95s were loaded into trucks headed for Hopkins hospitals, Fuller and a dozen staff members entered what he would come to call “the gauntlet.” Every hospital and health department in the country was competing for N95s and other PPE, a mess of bidding wars, price gouging and worthless knockoff masks. Fuller uncovered one scam when a company CEO, claiming to be based in Indianapolis, didn’t recognize the name of the city’s most famous steakhouse.
“For every mask shipment we have been able to bring in,” Fuller said, “there are 10 or 15 transactions we have had to terminate.”
He worked so much that his wife, home with their children, received flowers from Hopkins executives. He joked about the other crucial stockpile in his life, his wine collection.
Fuller was desperate to make the stockpiled N95s last as long as possible. He wanted every employee wearing one to also wear a face shield, but those, too, were impossible to find.
So at the end of March, the warehouse filled with folding tables spaced six feet apart. Volunteers were given foam strips, elastic straps and sheets of plastic to make homemade shields. At one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the country, they were trying to fix the problem for themselves, with scissors, staplers and hot glue guns.
A face shield was clipped to Williams’s belt in the middle of May, when for only the fourth time during the pandemic, she unwrapped a new N95.
After nine weeks in and out of Covidland, she had come to trust in her disposable respirator. It hurt her nose, gave her acne and made breathing hard. But the power of its protection was starting to give her back the feeling of safety she’d lost in March when she and the dozens of colleagues who worked alongside her each shift watched the areas where they’d cared for gunshot victims and heart attack patients turn into isolation rooms. They were tested to make sure the N95s fit their faces and taught to use other respirators that looked like gas masks or blew clean air into a hood.
And then, they were slammed. The first covid patient to go on a ventilator at Hopkins was a 40-year-old who worked out every day. The ambulance bay became a testing center. Williams’s co-workers were crying in the break room. Her patients couldn’t breathe, and then tubes were going down their throats, and then it felt like she couldn’t breathe, like everything she knew about nursing would never be enough.
“Our lives changed overnight,” she said. “You’re bracing yourself for people to die.”
She started silently saying a prayer she knew, every morning, every few hours, then sometimes 20 times a day in Covidland.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, it began. She said it before her patient started violently shaking and flailing, seizing in his bed. She couldn’t run out the door to ask for help, because to leave the room without potentially taking the virus out, she had to sanitize her gloves, trash them, take her gown off, trash it, exit into an antechamber, take off her first layer of gloves, sanitize her hands and wipe down her face shield. So she ran to the window and banged on it, then ran back to her patient, trying to hold him down, her face inches from his.
Courage, to change the things I can, the prayer continued. Williams said it in the car that she drove to work and wouldn’t let any member of her family touch. Its speakers blared Lizzo-filled playlists she used to pump herself up for what she told her friends was an “awesome learning experience.” She had been a nurse for only two years. Her job in merchandising at Under Armour had brought her to Baltimore, where she met her husband, Sean, and his two children. They were the ones to make her realize that she wanted a job where she could actually see the impact of all those hours she worked. Now, every day might be the day she took the virus home to them.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage, to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Another day in Covidland, and Williams was wearing her new N95, pumping her palms into an unconscious man’s chest, not thinking of all the particles flying out of his airways. Another, and her face shield popped off and clattered to the floor. Another, and a young Latina mother told Williams she couldn’t self-quarantine because she could not afford to stay home from work.
Another, and Williams was watching the chest of a middle-aged man rise and fall by the force of a ventilator. Outside the walls of the hospital on this day in July, America seemed to have moved on from the conversation about the shortage of N95s. Instead, people were fighting over simple cloth masks.
Maybe this patient had worn one. Maybe he’d said he didn’t believe in them. Either way, it was her job to take care of him. Williams suctioned virus-filled fluid from his airways, and breathed in again.
The radio advertisements could be heard across South Dakota, playing inside cars passing billboards plastered with the same message: 3M is hiring in Aberdeen. In a state that hosted 460,000 people at an August motorcycle rally and requires no one to wear a mask sits the largest respirator plant in the United States.
Its N95 manufacturing lines have been running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since Jan. 21, the same day public health officials announced the arrival of the coronavirus in Washington state.
Plant manager Andy Rehder hired 200 new employees this year and was still looking for more this summer so he could staff another N95 line being built. Rehder, whose wife wears an N95 as a hospital social worker, had a Bloomberg Magazine article from March displayed in his office. The headline asked, “How do you make more masks yesterday?”
The question still hangs over the plant, and the entire country, nearly six months after that article was published.
Ask the Trump administration, and the N95 shortage is nearly solved. Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, whom Trump put in charge of securing PPE, said that by December, 160 million N95s will be made in the United States per month. By his calculations, that will be enough to handle a “peak surge” from hospitals, clinics, independent physicians, nursing homes, dentists and first responders. The Strategic National Stockpile has 60 million N95s on hand, and states are rebuilding their stockpiles.
“I’ve got production up to what we think is the limits of what we need,” Polowczyk said. “I believe now that hospital systems are making management decisions that might lead to an appearance that we still don’t have masks, which is the farthest from the truth.”
But ask the people inside hospitals, and the shortage is far from over. An August survey of 21,500 nurses showed 68 percent of them are required to reuse respirators, many for more than the five times recommended by the CDC, and some even more than Kelly Williams. One Texas nurse reported she’s still wearing the same five N95s she was given in March.
Many health-care facilities that ordered KN95s, Chinese-made masks meant to have a similar filtering efficiency, gave up on them after realizing that the looser fit left workers in danger. The N95 shortage is more acute for primary care physicians, home health aides and hospice workers. But even for many hospital systems, the situation remains “fragile and challenging,” the American Hospital Association said this month.
“Maddening, frustrating, mind-blowing, aggravating, that’s the polite language for it,” said American Medical Association President Susan Bailey, who still hears from doctors who do not have respirators. “There has been such an outpouring for support for ‘health-care heroes.’ Everybody knows now how important it is for our front-line health-care workers to be able to work in a safe environment. … And yet, that desire doesn’t seem to be turning into a reality.”
The AMA, AHA, American Nurses Association and the AFL-CIO all point to the same solution: broader use of the Defense Production Act, which gives the president power over funding for the production and distribution of critical supplies during crises.
In August, Trump stood before a group of socially distanced reporters, praising himself for using the DPA “more comprehensively than any president in history.”
“There was a time,” he said, “when the media would say, ‘Why aren’t you using it? Why aren’t you using it?’ Well, we have used it a lot, where necessary. Only where necessary.”
That’s not what it looks like to the man who used to run Trump’s DPA program within the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Larry Hall, who retired last year, said the authority has been executed in an “ad hoc, haphazard fashion.”
Along with ordering 3M to import 166.5 million masks from China, the administration has used the DPA to invest $296.9 million in bolstering the N95 and filter-making supply chains. The Department of Defense, which oversees that funding, spends more per year on instruments, uniforms and travel for military bands.
“By not having a national strategy,” Hall said, “we have fewer masks.”
Ask the PPE industry and the refrain is that without long-term guarantees that the government will keep buying respirators, N95 manufacturers are wary of investing too much, and other companies that could start making respirators or the filters for them are hesitant to do so.
Peter Tsai, the scientist who invented a method to charge the fibers inside the respirator filter, knows why: “It is not profitable to make respirators in the United States,” he said. It can take six months just to create one manufacturing line that makes the N95′s filter.
But there is a workaround, Tsai said. Companies that already make similar filters — for vehicle emissions, air pollution and water systems — can modify their equipment to make N95 filters.
While Tsai, 68, has been fielding hundreds of calls from hospitals and researchers trying to sanitize N95s with heat and ultraviolet light, he has been working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to woo the 15 to 20 American companies that have the potential to produce respirator filters more quickly.
The government has funded just three of these companies through the DPA.
Others have gradually joined in on their own. But then those filters have to be made into respirators, and those respirators have to be approved by NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The entire process has moved at a glacial pace in comparison with the flurry of activity that rid the country of its ventilator shortage. Ventec, a company known for its efficient, toaster-size ventilators, handed its plans over to General Motors so that the auto company, under the DPA, could mass produce a product that was known to work. Other ventilator companies followed, handing over their trade secrets to Ford, Foxconn and other major manufacturers.
But when GM started making N95s, engineers with expertise in car interiors and air bags were charged with figuring out the process from scratch, the company said. Although they received advice from major mask makers, there were no groundbreaking corporate partnerships this time. The first N95s GM made were rejected by NIOSH. The second design didn’t correctly fit most people.
Other potential manufacturers went through the same challenges as GM, failing tests and making flat-fold N95s that experts worry do not offer a tight enough seal.
“If there was some kind of intellectual sharing, they wouldn’t be doing that,” said Christopher Coffey, who was the associate director for science in the NIOSH approvals program before retiring in January.
The DPA does have a provision that would allow manufacturers to work together without being subject to antitrust laws. But it has yet to be
Instead, established U.S. makers of N95s, whose products have been successfully protecting miners, construction workers and health-care professionals for decades, have continued to protect their processes as intellectual property.
Though 3M helped Ford make the far more expensive powered respirators, which blow clean air into a hood, the company has not entered into any major partnerships with outside manufacturers to make N95s. Asked why, 3M declined to explain, instead pointing to its other pandemic partnerships.
Ford gained its own approval to manufacture disposable respirators but has made just 16,000 of them while focusing instead on face shields and surgical masks. Other major U.S. manufacturers of N95s, including Honeywell and Moldex, have kept their manufacturing in-house, too.
“Folks aren’t likely to share that information outside of their own company,” said Jeff Peterson, who now oversees NIOSH approvals. NIOSH employees may know how 3M makes its respirators and the filters inside them. But by contract, they can’t tell other manufacturers how to do the same.
Meanwhile, 3M continues to dominate the American N95 market. While other parts of its business, such as office supplies and industrial adhesives, have struggled during the pandemic, 3M has invested $100 million to expand domestic production of respirators from 22 million to 50 million per month. Once the new production line is up and running in South Dakota in October, that number is expected to reach 95 million per month in the United States.
It still won’t be enough.
“Even though we are making more respirators than ever before and have dramatically increased production,” 3M spokeswoman Jennifer Ehrlich said, “the demand is more than we, and the entire industry, can supply for the foreseeable future.”
‘I just don’t get it’
Her N95 was already on, but Williams’s hands were slipping as she tried to force on a pair of gloves. She could hear the alarms going off. One of her patients was crashing, and she had to get into the room.
She should be able to just go, her runner’s legs carrying her to the bedside. But in Covidland, there were two closed doors standing in her way. She had started wearing her N95 all day so she could be ready for this moment. She pulled on her gown and another set of gloves and her face shield, reached for the door — and realized the patient inside was her 13-year-old stepson Kellen.
She jolted awake. She was in her bed. Her husband was asleep beside her. She slid out from her sheets and went downstairs to check on her stepchildren. Kellen and 19-year-old Alle were sleeping, too.
The nurse inhaled. She could still hear the alarms.
This is what it meant now, to be a health-care worker: across the country, nurses and doctors were reporting increased sleeplessness, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.
Williams reminded herself that she’d always had an N95, and the heavier, more protective respirators she sometimes wore instead.
But she knew, too, that covid-19 had taken the lives of more than 1,000 health-care workers, including a New Jersey primary care doctor who, determined to keep his practice open, doubled up on surgical masks when his N95 orders didn’t come. And a California nurse who rushed into a covid patient’s room to perform chest compressions. She saved his life, then doused her hair in hand sanitizer. She hadn’t been given an N95 at the beginning of her shift.
And then there was the news that shook every health-care worker Williams knew: Less than two miles from Hopkins, the head of the ICU at Mercy Hospital died after contracting the virus in July.
Joseph Costa was one of the people who’d guided the hospital through its PPE shortage early in the pandemic. His husband, David Hart, remembered him coming home and saying, “This is my mask for the week.” Neighbors pushed N95s through their mailbox slot.
“This is the United States of America, and we can’t seem to get factories built to deliver this stuff? I just don’t get it,” Hart said.
He will never know exactly how his husband, who insisted on caring for covid patients alongside his staff, became infected. Costa died in the ICU, the gloved hands of his colleagues on him as he went. Minutes later, they returned to caring for other patients.
At Mercy, at Hopkins, at every hospital that had found a way to get N95s, health-care workers wore their PPE to try to save the lives of people who contracted the virus because they had none.
Williams and her colleagues didn’t need to see the statistics to know that the pandemic was disproportionately affecting Black and Brown people, especially those deemed essential workers. They saw it in their patients and heard it from their families and friends.
Williams worked side by side with Shanika Young, a nurse whose brother seemed to have every known covid-19 symptom before he started to recover.
Afraid of infecting anyone in her community, Young went weeks without seeing her parents and newborn niece. She adopted a hound-mix puppy to have a friend when she couldn’t see her own. In the weeks that followed the killing of George Floyd, she agonized over her decision to stay away from the protests. She knew there wouldn’t be N95s there.
On a sweltering August morning, she left her dog in her apartment and packed her respirator in her car. She, too, re-wore her mask, but usually for four or five 12-hours shifts.
Now Young was taking it across Baltimore, not toward the hospital, but to a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood with one of the worst infection rates in the city.
During the pandemic, Baltimore has seen outbreaks in its homeless shelters, its trash-collecting facility and its jail. Now every place Young drove by fell on one side or the other of a new dividing line in America: those who have PPE and those who don’t. Bodegas, restaurants, nail salons and funeral homes. Downtown, a nonprofit’s dental clinic remained shuttered. She passed a mental health counseling center where sessions were still conducted only by video, and a physical therapist who wore KN95s to see clients. She parked near a school that, without N95s, had no way of ensuring its teachers were protected. It serves primarily Latino children, all of whom would be forced to learn online.
In the parking lot of the church, a booth that used to sell $1 snow cones had been transformed into a coronavirus testing center run by a team of Hopkins doctors and nurses.
On her day off, Young volunteered to work with them, spending hours sweating in her scrubs, sending swabs deep into nose after nose. She wore a surgical mask on top of her N95.
“I don’t think there’s any science that says this is actually safer,” she said. “But it’s just a mental thing.”
The line of people sweating on the asphalt was so long, Young couldn’t see the people at the end: a man in painter’s clothes, a mother pushing a stroller and a woman who, like Young, was wearing scrubs. Stitched onto the chest was the name of a retirement home.
The coughing patient was starting to fall asleep when Williams left her in the covid unit. Her shift had been over for more than 30 minutes. She checked in to make sure there was no one else who needed her help and headed for the locker room. She washed her hands twice. She used alcohol wipes to sanitize her phone, glasses, ID badges and pens.
She took off her N95, and she inhaled.
For the first time in two months, she decided that this respirator was done. Its straps were starting to feel too stretched. The shape of it looked just a little too warped.
Instead of hanging the N95 from a hook in her locker to air dry, she stuffed it in a bag marked “hazard.”
A new mask, still in its plastic packaging, was waiting for her next shift. She would wear it as long as possible, especially after learning that the Hopkins stockpile had run out of the British-made mask she wore and couldn’t get any more. She needed to change to a different type of N95, one that felt unfamiliar once again. She told herself that she was grateful just to have it. She told herself that it would protect her just the same.
Taken From: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/local/news/n-95-shortage-covid/
Governments around the world – including the UK – face a wave of lawsuits from foreign companies who complain that their profits have been hit by the pandemic.
Webinars and presentations shared with clients reveal that leading global law firms anticipate governments around the world will soon face claims over their response to the Covid-19 crisis. The actions are being brought under investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses which are embedded in trade and investment agreements and allow foreign investors and firms to sue other countries’ governments.
The claims are heard in highly secretive ad hoc tribunals before a panel of three judges. Often it is not apparent that a case is being brought until the panel sits.
The law firm Alston & Bird used a recent webinar to predict that the UK will be sued over Sadiq Khan’s decision to close Crossrail construction sites during the pandemic. The decision was at odds with the government’s policy of allowing sites to operate throughout lockdown, an inconsistency that they say opens up the way for a legal challenge.
Law firm Reed Smith has predicted that measures taken by governments to deal with the crisis are affecting investments “directly and significantly and could give rise to substantial claims”.
And Ropes & Gray has issued an alert advising clients to consider actions brought under investment treaties as “a powerful tool to recover or prevent loss resulting from Covid-19-related government actions”.
There are particular concerns about claims being brought against governments in the developing world.
More than 600 civil society groups in 90 countries have written an open letter sounding the alarm. Signatories include Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), SumOfUs and Global Justice Now. They warn at a “time when government resources are stretched to the limit in responding to the crisis, public money should not be diverted from saving lives, jobs and livelihoods into paying ISDS awards or legal fees to fight a claim”.
And they predict that a spate of cases now could result in a “regulatory chilling effect, in which governments water down, postpone or withdraw actions to tackle the pandemic for fear they will be sued”.
Countries including El Salvador and Bolivia have allowed citizens to delay payments for services such as water and electricity. Law firm Hogan Lovells has issued a client alert suggesting that foreign-owned utility companies could sue for lost revenue in such cases.
“Clearly, companies shouldn’t sue countries over emergency measures to save lives in a global pandemic, and we shouldn’t sign trade agreements that let them,” said Sondhya Gupta, UK campaign manager at SumOfUs. “We know lower-income countries are struggling most to contain the virus. The threat of rich corporations bullying them out of badly needed public funds to ‘compensate’ them for profit losses will further hamper efforts to fight the virus and add to the burden on future generations.”
Jean Blaylock, campaigns and policy manager at Global Justice Now, said the corporate courts which heard the claims often made awards far higher than those made by national courts. Of the more than 1,000 ISDS cases known to have been brought before the pandemic, 13 resulted in awards or settlements of more than US$1bn.
By the end of 2018, a raft of governments around the world had been ordered, or had agreed, to pay investors in publicly known ISDS cases a total of $88bn.
But there are now concerns Covid-19 will spark a claims bonanza which will benefit major law firms both bringing and defending the claims. “We have already heard of the threat of a case in Peru where the government there ordered toll roads to stop collecting tolls,” Blaylock said. “The government was worried that the act of taking money could be a way of spreading the pandemic.”
Blaylock added: “Why would a corporation sue? It seems so unreasonable, yet when you read the material from the law firms, to them it’s completely normal and they are expecting this to happen. They recognise there are incredibly valid public health needs, but they also understand that these courts are designed only to look at the interests of investors.”
Taken From: https://www.theguardian.com/
Why it matters: With many districts choosing fully remote or hybrid learning models, many fear the shortfall and delays of up to several months in receiving orders of the computers could exacerbate inequities in the classroom.
Between the lines: In some cases, the problem has been made worse by the Trump administration’s sanctions on Chinese suppliers, which have affected the manufacturer of several models of Lenovo laptops.
The big picture: Some of the nation’s largest school districts are still waiting on orders of laptops or hotspots, including Los Angeles; Clark County, Nevada; Wake County, North Carolina; Houston; Palm Beach, Florida; and Hawaii.
What they’re saying:
Taken From: https://www.axios.com/
In an effort to prevent stockpiling or hoarding of supplies, the list does not reveal the product manufacturers, but lists that ventilators, respirators, masks, surgical gowns, gloves and sterile swabs are on short supply.
According to a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the list is meant to help the industry prevent supply disruption in the midst of the pandemic.
“Under President Trump’s leadership, the federal government has taken great strides to meet the nation’s critical medical supply needs, and at this time, all requests have been filled or are being filled, while additional requests from states are minimal,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement.
“The FDA provided a device shortage list as part of the implementation of section 506J of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, signed into law as part of the CARES Act. Under section 506J, manufacturers of certain devices must notify the FDA of an interruption or permanent discontinuance in manufacturing,” the statement continued. “The shortage list was never intended to indicate there is a shortage of PPE or equipment to support patients, but allows for transparency to the public and stakeholders about devices.”
The new list comes as cases of COVID-19 see spikes nationwide and record-breaking counts are reported weekly in different states.
This week the U.S. saw its deadliest day in months as more than 1,500 died of the coronavirus on Wednesday, with the total deaths as of Friday topping 168,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. In total, there are more than 5.2 million coronavirus cases in the U.S.
Earlier at a press briefing on Friday, Trump praised the work to increase the Strategic National Stockpile’s supply of some of the products that made the FDA list.
“We have tripled the number of N95 masks on hand to over 40 million, tripled the number of gowns to over 15 million and quadrupled the number of ventilators to 69,000,” Trump said.
PPE supply shortages were commonly reported at the start of the virus, but lockdown efforts and the administration’s use of the Defense Production Act led to a slowdown of hospitalizations and an increase in crucial supplies. Still, some rural hospitals and other health care groups have said they have struggled to keep key supplies in stock.
In early July, a top nurses union warned that the start of new outbreaks could mean more shortages like the ones seen at the start of the pandemic.
“We’re five months into this and there are still shortages of gowns, hair covers, shoe covers, masks, N95 masks,” Deborah Burger, president of National Nurses United, said at the time. “I think overall, production, distribution and access has improved … the fear is that we will become complacent.”
Taken From: https://thehill.com/
The letter also urges Mexico to ensure states comply with the labor rights guaranteed by the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”).
The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, implemented on July 1 of this year, requires each of its signatory countries to respect workers’ rights. Last year, Mexico passed labor law reforms that strengthen collective bargaining and independent unions in the country.
Susana Prieto Terrazas, a Mexican labor rights activist, was imprisoned in June by the state government of Tamaulipas after years of organizing along the US-Mexico border. She was released on conditions that prevent her from continuing labor advocacy and require her to move to the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where the government has issued a warrant for her arrest.
“To protect workers’ rights in the United States, we must defend the rights of workers around the world and in Mexico. I’m sending a letter with more than 100 colleagues to call on Mexican President López Obrador to ensure that Mexico respects workers’ rights and ends its political persecution of labor activist Susana Prieto Terrazas,” said Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García. “American legislators cannot stay silent while corporate interests and corrupt politicians undermine the law to extract profits at the expense of working people. When the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement passed Congress, we were told it would protect workers’ rights and labor standards in the US and Mexico. But if state governments in Mexico can willfully violate basic labor rights provided by Mexican law and affirmed by the USMCA, these protections are meaningless.”
“Mexico must live up to its obligations under the USMCA and enforce labor laws completely and uniformly throughout the country,” Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said. “Anything less than this is unacceptable, will render these labor protections meaningless, and will require action by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the U.S. as well as my counterparts in Mexico to strengthen workers’ protections across North America.”
The rights of workers across North America must be enforced, including in Mexico, said Congressman Joaquin Castro, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Vice Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) has new labor provisions to guarantee worker’s rights to organize for better conditions and higher wages, and must be respected. The United States Congress needs to ensure our trading partners live up to their commitments to expand the rights of workers.”
A PDF of the letter can be found here.
More than 16.5 million people around the world have been infected by the coronavirus, and the numbers continue to rise steadily. The pandemic has severely disrupted almost every aspect of the global economy, including the global supply chain. Across the world, factories have shut down or slowed production; countries have restricted exports and imports; and transportation has slowed or halted.
While this turmoil has affected many industries, America’s health care system has been hit especially hard. Over the past two decades, US health care has come to rely heavily on international suppliers, especially in China, for thousands of essential products, from surgical gowns to syringes. In fact, as of 2019, the US was the largest importer of medical goods — including of personal protective products — in the world.
Over the past few months as the pandemic raged, most US hospitals and health systems have responded by turning to domestic suppliers. They are more reliable given the difficulties with transportation and trade, which have become worse since the pandemic began.
This trend is likely to continue, as hospitals and health care systems try to ensure that they have a steady supply of essential products.
But this new domestic strategy has a particular disadvantage: In general, it is much more expensive. And this puts hospitals — and, potentially, their patients — in greater financial jeopardy.
Higher domestic prices are likely due to a combination of the increased costs of manufacturing in the US, as well as the booming demand that has outpaced supply. For example, in December, Johns Hopkins Medicine, where I oversee the supply chain, was paying 40 cents for a gown from our supplier in China. We are now paying $9 per gown from a domestic supplier. That’s more than 20 times the former price — all at a time when we need more gowns than ever. This change has the potential to significantly increase health care costs and will only add to the existing strain on health care providers, health insurers, and consumers.
Right now, increased supply costs may not seem like the most important health care issue we face. And it’s not. The immediate task of saving lives obviously takes precedence over all other concerns.
But to save lives, we need personal protective equipment, we need tubing, we need gowns. And we also need to be able to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of our institutions. Without a reliable, affordable supply of a range of products, we can’t properly care for our patients, both those with Covid-19 and those with other health problems.
The current supply problems began in January. With the initial coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan and the realization that it would likely spread globally, hospitals around the world began to stock up on supplies, which decreased their availability. Beyond the overall turmoil brought on by the pandemic, China took additional steps to protect itself that further obstructed the supply chain.
In February, to ensure that the country had adequate domestic supply, the Chinese government took over the production and distribution of medical products. China was not the only country to do this, but because it is a leading global supplier of so many health care products — personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks, medical devices, antibiotics, and pharmaceutical ingredients, to name a few — the decision had major consequences. In 2019 alone, China supplied a quarter of the entire globe’s face masks.
According to the Congressional Research Service, which earlier this year published a report on US imports of medical supplies, China exported in 2019 nearly $21 billion in pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and health care products to the US. There are no figures yet for 2020, but health care imports from China will almost certainly drop significantly.
For some products, US reliance on China was particularly high. Last year, the US imported $1.9 billion in PPE from China, about 30 percent of our total PPE imports.
China’s response is understandable; it was dealing with a significant disease outbreak. But in the US, this move kicked off shortages of PPE, as well as some medicines, and other important health care products — shortages from which we haven’t yet recovered.
China seems to have its outbreak relatively under control, and it has now somewhat eased limits on exports of medical supplies. This is good news, but the steps so far will not meet the overall increased demand.
The pandemic will continue to wreak havoc with logistics, creating bottlenecks that have slowed the movement of supplies. Pandemic restrictions, in particular physical distancing, slow down almost every part of the process, especially production. And some of our suppliers tell us that they are starting to see shortages in the raw materials they need for production, such as the material typically used to make isolation gowns. So it’s likely that health care providers will continue to rely more on domestic suppliers.
There are some benefits to this turn to US supplies. The route from factory to bedside is more stable, and providers are helping to support US workers and the US economy.
But at the same time, the higher costs are putting pressure on health care; even before the pandemic, most providers were striving to cut budgets. Those pressures will only grow: The pandemic has increased costs at many hospitals (see: the huge increase in the costs of medical gowns), while also reducing revenue due to the enormous number of appointments and elective procedures (which usually generate a substantial amount of a health care systems’ income) that have been canceled and postponed.
So what can we do? I don’t have all the answers, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone does. The first step is to raise awareness of the problem.
On the ground, a potential solution is to return to reusable supplies. Over the past two decades, most hospitals replaced many reusable products with disposables. Johns Hopkins, and I suspect many other systems, will reconsider that choice. And we can do more to conserve supplies, using them carefully and only when necessary.
Federal and state governments can help by ensuring that domestic product manufacturers aren’t unfairly raising prices, as has apparently occurred in some places. They could also provide financial and logistical support to health care providers so they can better manage higher supply costs.
As this situation continues to evolve, the health care system and its partners will need to develop creative solutions to help ensure that hospitals can continue to afford to keep everyone safe.
Taken From: https://www.vox.com/
“The current flood control situation remains severe and cannot be relaxed in any way,” The Ministry of Water Resources said, Reuters reported Thursday.
“The areas impacted by the flood are mainly rural areas; so no major manufactory bases were affected and impacts to shippers are minor,” according to a statement from Siewloong Wong, Kuehne+Nagel’s regional manager for Asia Pacific.
After days of rain, meteorologists expect the cascade to continue throughout the week. China’s National Meteorological Center anticipates between 4 and 6 inches of rain from Tuesday to Thursday in Sichuan, Anhui, Hubei and Henan provinces, according to the Nikkei Asain Review. The country’s flood warning system is currently set to red, its highest level, the report said.
The rain has had an impact on carrier operations as well, but the situation is reportedly improving. Reefer plugs were hard to come by, impacting the flow of refrigerated goods.
“Import container pick-up activities have been severely impacted and as a result reefer plugs are highly utilized especially at the port of Yantian and Ningbo,” Hapag-Lloyd said in a note to customers. “We seek your assistance to pick-up your container as soon as released by customs.”
Maersk said it had several inland terminals suspend operations as a result of the flooding in Anhui and Jiangxi provinces.
“The situation is improving, as the water recedes,” a spokesperson for Maersk told Supply Chain Dive in an email. “Right now, only one terminal, a common user facility in Anqing in the Anhui province on the Yangtze River, is operationally suspended. The other affected inland terminals are operating with slightly lower productivities.”
Shippers should expect some delays in the impacted region, C.H. Robinson told Supply Chain Dive.
“C.H. Robinson is noticing port closures and disruptions in some ports along the Yangtze river due to recent severe flooding,” John Chen, the vice president of Global Forwarding Asia at C.H. Robinson, told Supply Chain Dive in an email. “Ports in Anhui and Hubei provinces are impacted with equipment issues as well as feeder and haulage delays while ports in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces are functioning normally.”
A spokesperson for DSV said the floods “haven’t caused any major disruptions” to the company’s supply chain.
The economic impact of the flooding could reach $12 billion, according to an estimate cited by Nikkei.
Taken From: https://www.supplychaindive.com/news
In one tumultuous week in early July, we saw Donald Trump commute the sentence of his crony who has openly confessed to committing multiple felonies and celebrate the implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) with the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Meanwhile, under López Obrador’s watch,Mexican labor lawyer Susana Prieto Terrazas recently spent nearly a month in a dangerous Mexican jail during a global pandemic for the crime of helping workers organize an independent, democratic union. And she continues to fear for her life despite committing no crimes whatsoever.
More than the revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) connects the United States and Mexico. The rule of law in both of our countries is in crisis. Corporations and cronies are winning, and workers losing.
Last year, Mexico passed labor law reforms to replace corrupt “protection” unions aligned with maquiladora employers with independent unions, and to vote on collective-bargaining contracts so workers can finally win higher wages and standards of living. For U.S. workers, these reforms could help level the playing field and stop middle-class jobs from being outsourced. Unfortunately, there is no viable enforcement mechanism, not from the Mexican government, nor the USMCA.
How do I know this? Because the federal government in Mexico has done nothing to undo the corrupt decision that put Prieto Terrazas in jail on trumped-up charges, after filing proof of replacing a protection (read: corrupt) union with an independent one, influenced by two right-wing state governors working in lockstep with phony union bosses. In fact, the USMCA entered into effect on the same day extreme conditions were imposed in exchange for Prieto Terrazas’s release from jail. She has been forcibly removed from one of the states where she organizes, prohibited from visiting Labor Court, and required to pay reparations based on unjustified charges, claiming she caused emotional trauma during a protest at which she wasn’t even present!
The grim future of labor rights in Mexico will mean continued outsourcing of U.S. jobs across the border, where workers will continue to toil in poverty.
Barred from that state, Prieto Terrazas cannot represent thousands of her clients, where she serves an instrumental role in helping workers who are often unaware that they even have rights that are being violated, especially in a pandemic. Not only does her arrest hinder her own ability to help workers organize, bargain collectively, and know their basic rights, but it has a chilling effect on anyone who wants to exercise their own rights or help workers do the same.
While the situation sends a warning to workers in Mexico, it also extends an open invitation to multinationals looking for a market where they can exploit cheap labor. Consider U.S. auto firms’ announcements of plans to increase production in Mexico, like Ford’s decision to make its new Mustang electric SUV there, while GM has closed U.S. plants and moved many of its most popular vehicles’ lines to Mexico. Changes to Mexican autoworker wages were supposed to be one of the major advances of the USMCA. But as it stands, the grim future of labor rights in Mexico will mean continued outsourcing of U.S. jobs across the border, where workers will continue to toil in poverty. Sadly, there is no indication that the USMCA will restore hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, as Trump nonsensically claims.
If we want to give the USMCA the best shot at being effective, we must confront squarely the first problems that arise in its implementation—and this case represents a very, very big problem. We must address the ineffective legal system in Mexico that protects a corrupt, entrenched labor structure. The prospect of working with a U.S. administration hell-bent on protecting its own corruption seems dismal, but I will keep sounding the alarm until there is someone in power who will listen.
“I want to be clear: We have a ways to go on making sure we have enough PPE,” Administrator Pete Gaynor said at a congressional hearing, referring to personal protective equipment. “This is not as simple as just throwing a light switch and we just magically make more.”
Hospitals and doctors have been reporting shortages of masks, gowns and other protective equipment for months as the pandemic rages.
Gaynor testified that many states are reporting they now have stockpiles of equipment that could last 60 or 90 days or more.
But Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Gaynor that lawmakers are still hearing about shortages of the equipment from hospitals in their districts.
As cases rise, Gaynor acknowledged there would be more stress on the system.
“Now there may be shortages, micro-shortages across the country based on COVID-19 cases, increased hospitalizations,” he said, adding hospitals should work with state emergency response officials and FEMA to acquire more PPE if they cannot from their normal supplier.
Particularly in the early days of the pandemic, President Trump resisted using the full powers of the federal government to increase production of PPE, for example by fully using the Defense Production Act.
“We’re not shipping clerks,” Trump said in March, adding each governor is responsible for their states’ equipment needs.
The administration has since taken some steps, like announcing a deal in April with the manufacturer 3M for increased mask production.
But the American Medical Association (AMA) called on the Trump administration at the end of June to more fully use the Defense Production Act to increase production of equipment, saying some doctors offices are having trouble reopening because they do not have the proper protective equipment.
“As the AMA continues to communicate with physicians during the pandemic, they tell us the biggest challenge to reopening their practices is the ongoing shortages of PPE, especially N95 masks and gowns,” the letter to Vice President Pence said.
Gaynor said Wednesday the underlying issue is that the United States does not make most PPE and is reliant on other countries.
“We still have many months to go before we start making enough in the US to supply the demand and as cases grow in the Sun Belt, the demand goes up,” he said.
He added that “the place we are in today is much better than we were 60 days ago.”
“We’re not going to buy our way out of this with just money,” he noted. “We’re going to have to improve the industrial base to make these critical items in the US so we’re not at the whim of our global competitors.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch today released an updated series of trade flow and country-of-origin data infographics on medical goods used to battle COVID-19 ahead of tomorrow’s U.S. House Ways & Means Committee hearing on critical supply chains, trade and manufacturing.
The newest feature is:
In addition, the web feature includes updated data showing:
Decades of hyperglobalization have undermined our resilience against the COVID-19 crisis. Even into summer 2020, the U.S. still cannot make or get critical goods people need with shortages again emerging of personal protective equipment (PPE) as infection rates rise. More than 40,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities have been lost to 25 years of corporate-rigged trade policies that made it easier and less risky to move production overseas to pay workers less and trash the environment.
Having the world’s largest trade deficit year after year means the U.S. is extremely reliant on other countries to provide essential goods. As the COVID-19 crisis emerged in early 2020, U.S. government officials urged U.S. firms to expand exports to China of the limited U.S. domestic production of key medical goods instead of considering U.S. residents’ needs. Effective implementation of the Defense Production Act (DPA)to purchase and domestically allocate PPE, ventilators and more would have preempted the export frenzy we see in the data. Unfortunately, Americans are still in the dark about the extent to which these critical emergency powers have been used to control exports of critical supplies.
After decades of outsourcing and corporations buying up competitors to consolidate control of production sectors and shuttering “redundant” production facilities, many critical goods are now mainly made in one or two countries. When workers there fall ill or governments prioritize their own peoples’ needs before exporting goods away, a worldwide shortage of masks, gloves, medicine and more can quickly develop.
And, under current practices and policies, it’s hard to quickly increase production. Long, thin globalized supply chains mean parts needed to make any one product may come from dozens of countries. If one link in the chain breaks because it is difficult to source inputs and components from a specific country or region, it becomes impossible to scale up domestic production during a crisis. And, monopoly patent protections in many trade agreements expose countries to sanctions if they produce medicine, ventilators and more without approval by and payment to pharmaceutical and other firms.
With policymakers and the public distracted, corporate lobbyists are pushing for more of the same trade policies that hatched the unreliable supply chains now failing us all. Instead, we must fundamentally Rethink Trade. The goals should be healthy, resilient communities and economic well-being for more people – not the current priority of maximizing corporate profits.
Taken From: https://www.citizen.org/
For Immediate Release
Contact: Arthur Stamoulis (Citizens Trade Campaign), 202-494-8826 or email@example.com
With most of the world focused on stopping the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump and Johnson administrations are reportedly moving forward this week with US-UK trade negotiations that civil society groups in both countries worry could privilege corporate profits at the expense of the environment, consumer safety, public health and worker rights.
Today a powerful and diverse array of unions and public interest groups from both sides of the Atlantic sent a unified message that trade negotiations between the United States and United Kingdom must prioritize working families, public health and the environment over corporate profits.
The organizations expressed their concerns that a U.S.-UK Free Trade Agreement could pose risks to the wellbeing of people and the planet. The groups — which include environmental, animal welfare, health, food, farming, labor, digital, development, faith and social justice organizations — called on the governments of both countries to conduct transparent negotiations. They demanded the inclusion of binding climate and labor standards and the exclusion of terms that undermine consumer health and safety, financial, privacy and other public interest safeguards.
A PDF of the letter, with the complete list of signing organizations, is available at: https://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TransatlanticTradeStatement_May2020.pdf
Quotes from signatories follow.
“The climate crisis demands a wholesale transformation of status quo trade policy. Any trade agreement worth enacting must support — not undermine — action on climate change. It must include binding climate standards, including a requirement for each country to fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement, so that corporations cannot shift their climate pollution to countries with lower standards. And it must entirely exclude the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system that corporations have used to challenge climate policies.” –Ben Beachy, Director of the Sierra Club’s Living Economy Program
“Today, high prescription drug prices force people to choose whether to take the medicines they need, to ration, or simply go without needed treatments in order to be able pay for other necessities like food and shelter. The recent coronavirus pandemic has held a magnifying glass to the inequality of our healthcare system. This immoral system is further entrenched by powerful companies that use complicated trade negotiations to lock in current U.S. drug policies and prevent Congress from taking reasonable steps to curb drug price gouging and export our bad policies to our trade partners. A U.S.-UK deal should leave the National Health Service off the table and exclude terms that would raise drug prices in either country.” –Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
“We cannot allow U.S.-UK negotiations to produce yet another ‘free trade’ deal that empowers multinational corporations to pursue their global deregulation agenda. Such deals undermine government policies that protect local farmers’ livelihoods, help countries maintain food self-sufficiency and preserve the environment for future generations. We caution against any provisions that threaten safe food, clean water, and common-sense consumer labeling.” –Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch
“Our approach to trade policy needs to be fundamentally overhauled to benefit working families, not just the executives and large shareholders of multinational corporations. This is especially true in this moment, when workers worldwide face unprecedented threats to their ability to earn a living. Any new trade deal, including with the United Kingdom, must include stronger protections for workers, not increased incentives for corporations in search of the lowest wages and weakest labor standards. Workers in call centers and other industries are tired of agreements that enable corporations to pit American workers against workers in other countries in a race to the bottom, instead of raising wages and standards for all workers and creating good jobs here in the U.S.” –Dan Mauer, Director of Government Affairs, Communications Workers of America (CWA)
“Fixing an existing bad deal like NAFTA to try to reduce its ongoing damage is different from creating a good trade pact from scratch. A good U.S.-UK agreement would be about production, not deregulation with trade terms that benefit workers and farmers in both countries and protect the environment, but none of the corporate giveaways found in past pacts that undermine financial regulation and food and product safety and empower monopolistic online firms to threaten our privacy and dodge accountability for selling us fake and dangerous products.” –Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch
“If the UK is to act on the environmental and social crises we face, or lead international climate talks with integrity, we cannot chase a trade deal with a nation that is abandoning climate commitments and defending polluting industries. Rules that prevent overuse of vital antibiotics on livestock or stop dangerous pesticides being sprayed on our food cannot be traded away in a US deal. Now is not the time to be putting the standards that protect our health and environment on the line.” –Kierra Box, Friends of the Earth EWNI
“The Government has failed to convincingly set out what it hopes to achieve through a US-UK trade deal, despite the risks it could pose to the environment, food standards and public health. It is difficult to see how the deal is consistent with our climate change commitments, especially the goal of net-zero by 2050. The deal poses severe risks to UK agriculture and food standards, which the Government has refused to protect in law. And the deal threatens the NHS and medicines pricing – a key priority for US negotiators.” –David Lawrence, Trade Justice Movement
“Our precious and beloved NHS must not be ‘on the table’ in trade negotiations with the US. We don’t believe our Prime Minister when he says it isn’t. Trump wants to make profits from our valuable patient data, let US-based companies take over providing some NHS services, deprive our universal and comprehensive service of its controlled drug costs and flood our markets with unhealthy food and drink. More and more private companies – especially US ones – already profit from our NHS. Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) wants a complete re-nationalisation of the National Health Service. Trade – especially in health – should be in the public interest, not for private enrichment. No public service should be ‘tradeable’’ within trade deals.” –John Puntis, Keep our NHS Public
“Coronavirus has exposed the flaws in the pro-corporate agenda that this trade deal is intended to entrench – from weakening public services, to bringing the market into health care, driving up medicine prices and lowering safety standards. Whatever Johnson and Trump’s rhetoric, the deal will have very little impact in getting the real economy going again. The most optimistic estimates predict at most a fraction of a percent in growth. All this type of deal will do is tie the hands of the government at a time when they need full scope to provide economic stimulus, a green recovery and to protect jobs..” –Jean Blaylock, Global Justice Now
Stock market swings, business closings and other COVID-19 disruptions threaten the nation’s economic well-being.
Some members of Congress want to address the fallout by lifting tariffs on imports from China and other countries, believing that giving Americans access to a flood of cheaper goods will stimulate the economy.
But what might seem like a quick cure would actually jeopardize America’s long-term health.
America’s steel and aluminum industries are still trying to bounce back from years of dumping and other illegal trade practices, from China and other nations, which caused widescale factory closures and job losses.
Removing tariffs on those products now just invites more of the cheating that led to the penalties in the first place.
Chinese goods, for example, would swamp U.S. markets at the worst possible time, as American industries—still trying to recover from the illegal trade of the past—also face the COVID-19 economic slowdown. In the wake of increased dumping, U.S. factories would be forced to scale back or close, throwing more Americans out of work.
Members of Congress have to ask themselves: Whose side are they on?
The Chinese government subsidizes steel, aluminum and other manufacturing with cash, loans that producers don’t have to repay, and other kinds of aid. Then China dumps products in foreign markets at artificially low prices, undercutting domestic producers and costing workers their jobs.
From 2001 to 2018, America lost 3.7 million jobs—2.8 million of them in manufacturing—because of the trade imbalance with China. That imbalance was driven largely by unfair competition. The uneven playing field also dragged down wages and benefits for Americans who managed to continue to work.
Unleashing a flood of Chinese goods on U.S. markets now would put America in the same position again, only worse because American factories and workers are still grappling with the unprecedented effects of COVID-19.
But illegal trade isn’t just a danger to the economy.
America’s national security depends on a robust manufacturing sector that can turn out the weapons of war and provide the infrastructure for power, telecommunications and transportation. Eviscerating America’s steel and aluminum industries is China’s strategy for undermining U.S. power while consolidating its own. Unfair trade by other countries only compounds the problem.
At the insistence of the United Steelworkers (USW) and other unions, the U.S. in 2018 imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum to safeguard America’s economic and security interests.
ariffs reduced the demand for foreign steel and aluminum, giving the industries a chance to revive.
Some producers even pledged new investments in their facilities. After suspending construction of an electric arc furnace at its Fairfield, Ala., works in 2015 because of unfavorable market conditions, U.S. Steel last year announced plans to complete the $215 million project and hire about 150 workers.
Yet America’s core industries remain vulnerable. Production increased after the tariffs went into effect, but demand fell again last year. Removing tariffs now in a misguided effort to stimulate the economy will only knock the industries on their heels again.
That’s exactly what China’s communist party leaders want. Already rebounding from COVID-19, Chinese government agencies openly plot about preying on countries still trying to come to grips with the disease. They flaunt their goal of dumping products like steel and aluminum on America—if given the chance again—so they can dominate those industries for years to come.
Right now, China sits on huge surpluses of steel and aluminum. If Congress lifts the tariffs, these products would deluge American markets almost immediately. U.S. manufacturing might never recover.
America must keep the steel and aluminum tariffs in place.
But those defensive measures aren’t sufficient by themselves to ensure the long-term survival of America’s core industries.
The nation must ramp up domestic demand—significantly invest in these industries itself—to keep factories operating and workers employed. A national infrastructure program—carried out with American labor and U.S.-made products and materials—would help accomplish this.
Investments in roads and bridges, environmentally safe sewer systems, clean-energy buses, high-speed rail and modern ports would create millions of jobs. Many of them would be in steel, aluminum and other industries, like electric bus manufacturing, where unions represent workers and ensure they have decent wages, benefits and working conditions.
The nation also must find and tap other potential sources of industrial demand. A return to commercial shipbuilding is one possibility.
America once led the world in the production of oceangoing tankers and freighters. But Asian nations, including China, highly subsidized their industries and forced U.S. competitors out of business beginning in the 1980s.
The industry’s demise cost thousands of jobs and left U.S. exporters at the mercy of foreign-owned ships, which can cut off service to American ports at any time. A revival of commercial shipbuilding would create demand for U.S. steel, aluminum and other products while enhancing national security at the same time.
Public health officials in charge of the COVID-19 crisis tell Americans to keep calm and take common-sense steps to protect themselves.
That’s also good advice for members of Congress wrestling with the virus’ economic impact.
Knee-jerk actions and quick fixes, like lifting tariffs on steel, aluminum and other manufactured goods, will make a bad situation worse in the long run. America will lose strength, and countries like China will benefit.
Congress must leave the steel and aluminum tariffs in place and redouble efforts to find new uses for American products. That’s the way to get America’s economy healthy again.
Taken From: https://m.usw.org/blog/2020/killer-of-a-cure
Nothing symbolises British fears of a standard-slashing US trade deal better than chlorinated chickens: those zombie birds, barely able to move, cluck or feed, stuffed with chemicals that force them to grow to unbelievable sizes, sitting in their own waste, covered in sores rather than feathers. At the end of their miserable life of confinement, they are washed in chlorine or a similar chemical to get rid of the bacteria that infect them.
In fact, the wash is believed to hide rather than eliminate some bacteria, potentially driving much higher rates of food poisoning in the US, not to mention the appallingly treated workers in the industry who suffer “rashes, burns, destruction of the eye tissue, difficulty breathing, and inflammation of the respiratory system” as a result of exposure.
But chicken is only the tip of the iceberg. Despite government claims, here are five other unpleasant foods that could make their way to our menus as part of a UK-US trade deal.
Much US meat is produced on an industrial scale, with conditions as bad as those in the chicken sheds. In particular, hormones, steroids and antibiotics are regularly used to make animals bigger and faster, and to prevent them getting ill in the unnaturally close conditions in which they are kept. Many cows and pigs never see sunlight, walk freely or eat grass. Many of the chemicals used are bad for us too – antibiotic overuse is threatening to make these vital drugs useless, and to bring down a pillar of modern medicine. Another chemical, ractopamine, is regularly fed to industrially farmed pigs in the US, despite making the animals collapse, turn aggressive, suffer liver and kidney dysfunction, and even die. But it probably affects humans too, which is why not just the EU but also Russia and China have banned this dangerous chemical, as well as US pork that contains it.
The majority of US processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients, unlike British food. The US is demanding a “science-based” approach to food. This sounds good, but in trade deals “science-based” is a shorthand for more genetically modified food and more intensive chemical use. It contrasts with the EU’s precautionary principle, which takes a cautious approach to health risks and bans foods where there’s a credible risk to health. In the US, the balance of proof works the other way, and there is a high barrier that has to be passed before “harm” translates into regulation. Lead paint, banned in most of Europe before the second world war, was not prohibited in the US until 1978. Boris Johnson and his lead negotiator to the EU have talked about the need for the UK’s approach to food standards to be “governed by science”. GM is coming this way.
US rules allow milk to have nearly double the level of somatic cells – white blood cells that fight bacterial infection – that the UK allows. In practice, this means more pus in our milk, and more infections going untreated in cows. Much US milk would be deemed unfit for human consumption in Britain. Vegans don’t escape unscathed, because the US allows far more pesticide residue on fruit and vegetables, and allows 72 chemicals banned in the EU, including some responsible for serious harm. That’s before we get to the truly horrific – the rat hair, insect fragments and excrement traces that the US allows in small amounts in food.
Even baby food carries higher risks in the US. In Britain, baby food has special standards including a complete ban on artificial colours and E-numbers, very low maximum levels of pesticides and limits on added sugar. The US has no specific regulations for baby food. A recent test of baby foods in the US found that 95% contained toxic metals, with 73% containing traces of arsenic. While the amounts may be small, the lack of tight regulation on US baby foods, and the certainty that sugar is often added to toddler snack food, should cause deep disquiet.
Britain currently protects certain foods to ensure they’re made to specific standards and to promote local farming and industry. Think Cornish pasties, Melton Mowbray pork pies, Scottish wild salmon and Stilton blue cheese. In trade talks to date, the US has “pressed the UK to move away from current EU approach on generic terms”. American companies would be able to produce Cornish pasties on a massive scale and sell them back to us. The US also wants to “eliminate … unjustified labelling” saying it unfairly discriminates against American foods and, incredibly, the administration “view[s] the introduction of warning labels as harmful rather than as a step to public health”.
These are not marginal concerns for the US – food is not an aspect of a future deal that Britain will be able to simply opt out of. It is central to US objectives that call for “greater regulatory compatibility to reduce burdens associated with unnecessary differences in regulations and standards” including “a mechanism to remove expeditiously unwarranted barriers that block the export of US food and agricultural products”. The US trade deal is a threat to our food standards and our farmers, and the US will not sign a deal that doesn’t have food standards in it.
Taken From: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/02/chlorinated-chicken-foods-us-trade-deal-uk-eu
A squabble is breaking out over whether respirator mask manufacturers need more protection from legal liability as the Trump administration presses them to ramp up production amid a major shortage during the coronavirus crisis.
With officials estimating the U.S. has only 1 percent of the masks needed for health workers in a full pandemic, Trump administration and mask makers wanted a provision added to the emergency coronavirus spending bill to protect manufacturers if wearers get sick. But House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, viewed the effort as an expansive legal waiver and blocked it from being added to the final version.
Under the 2005 PREP Act, the government assumes the cost of liability claims when it asks companies to provide products in response to a public emergency. But the protection doesn’t apply to items like industrial masks because they’re not regulated by the FDA, according to Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Association.
The mask supply is a growing concern for the administration as more outbreaks of coronavirus are being reported in multiple states. The CDC is trying to speed masks to health care workers under an emergency use authorization granted Monday that allows more types of respirators, like industrial masks, to be used in health care settings. The FDA already allows a subset of respirators to be used in health care settings.
HHS this week said the U.S. has about 1 percent of the required respirator masks needed to equip health workers in a full-blown pandemic, estimating the medical system would need as many as 3.5 billion N95 respirator masks in a year.
As the novel coronavirus paralyzes large chunks of China’s economy, another possible result from the outbreak could strike closer to home for many Americans: shortages of lifesaving medication.
The U.S. relies on China for electronics, clothes, toys and, increasingly, prescription drugs. About 90% of the active ingredients used by U.S. companies in drug manufacturing come from China, which has prompted politicians and public health experts to express concern over potential shortages of common generics.
To date, manufacturing disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, haven’t led to reported shortages in the U.S., but the Food and Drug Administration said it’s closely monitoring the situation.
The FDA said earlier this week it was tracking about 20 drugs that are manufactured primarily in China. Depending on the drug, stockpiles lasting weeks, perhaps months, have been warehoused, according to supply chain experts.
But “it’s an issue now,” said David Jacobson, a professor of practice at Southern Methodist University’s business school. “If China isn’t in a position to turn [drug manufacturing] around … then we don’t have an alternative source from which to source them.”
Michael Wessel, commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said generic antibiotics and blood pressure meds could be among those first affected.
We don’t know exactly which products are going to be short,” said Erin Fox, senior policy director of drug information and support services at the University of Utah Health. But, she added, for many Americans, stockpiling a two-week supply, no different from preparing for a long vacation, may be a good idea.
“We don’t want people to panic,” Jacobson said, but “patients might try to position to have a couple months ahead just in case. We do have to recognize that if everybody tried to do that, it would exacerbate the problem, but that’s what I would have my family do.”
Wessel said although “hoarding is something we should avoid,” with most providers, “it’s pretty hard in this day and age to stock up when your insurance company will limit you to a 90-day supply.”
The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted a “substantial and potentially threatening reliance on China with our drug supplies,” Wessel added. “As production in China has been taken offline, the supplies of those products that go into 90% of the generics Americans take are at risk.”
As China’s government continues work to contain the epidemic, it’s also possible drugs or related products previously earmarked for export will be used locally.
“China is going to treat its own people first — any country would do that,” Wessel said. “We shouldn’t blame them for that. But because we are so dependent on them for those, the question is going to be whether there is going to be treatments available for citizens across the globe.”
As coronavirus diagnoses wane, and as more factories in China reopen, potential risks to supply chains also should decline, experts told ABC News.
“I think we’ll have a much better idea in eight to 12 weeks,” Fox said. “I think it’s important not to panic, but I think it’s a good idea to have a couple of weeks on hand of chronic medications. That’s never a bad idea.”
Taken From: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/coronavirus-lead-drug-shortages-us/story?id=69243037
To correct these environmental failures, environmental groups repeatedly offered detailed recommendations for essential
changes to the 2018 deal, as summarized in a recent letter to Congress. On December 10, 2019, the Trump administration
signed a “protocol of amendment” with some revisions to the 2018 deal. A review of the text of the protocol reveals that
the deal’s core environmental failures have not been resolved.
Below are the essential changes to NAFTA 2.0 that the environmental community has consistently called for, and an
assessment of whether the revised deal meets the mark, based on the text of the 2019 revision. In short, the revised deal
would perpetuate NAFTA’s environmental damage.
1. Binding climate standards: FAIL
● Why it matters: Binding climate standards are essential to curb outsourcing of climate pollution and jobs and to
ensure the U.S. and its trading partners fulfill commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. The U.S. is by far the
world’s largest outsourcer of climate pollution, thanks in part to trade deals that ignore climate change. In
September, 110 members of Congress called for binding climate standards in a renegotiated NAFTA, reinforcing
a longstanding demand of the environmental community.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: Far from including binding climate standards, the 2018 deal failed to even mention
climate change. Nor does the 2019 revision. This glaring omission would leave intact NAFTA’s incentives for
corporations to dodge the hard-fought clean energy policies of U.S. states by moving to Mexico, eliminating jobs
and perpetuating climate pollution.
2. Binding clean air, water, and land standards: FAIL
● Why it matters: There is a well-documented track record of corporations using NAFTA to dodge our hard-fought
environmental standards by shifting their production to Mexico, free of charge, to dump toxic air and water
pollution under Mexico’s weaker environmental policies. The result has been job loss in the U.S. and toxic
poisoning in border communities. To reverse this damage, we have consistently called for a revised deal to
include binding limits on air, water, and land pollution.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The 2018 deal barely mentions pollution and fails to include specific and binding terms to
actually address documented pollution dumping. For example, the text “recognizes that air pollution is a serious
threat to public health,” but then fails to include a single binding rule to reduce the air pollution that NAFTA has
exacerbated. The 2019 revision repeats this failure by omitting essential limits on air, water, or land pollution.
3. Obligations to fulfill commitments under key multilateral environmental agreements: PARTIAL FAIL
● Why it matters: The environmental community asked for a renegotiated NAFTA to require each country to adopt,
maintain, and implement policies to fulfill their obligations under top-priority Multilateral Environmental
Agreements (MEAs), including all of the MEAs to which the U.S. is a party and other critical MEAs ratified by most
countries in the world. Otherwise, countries will continue to have the incentive to violate their MEA commitments in
order to boost trade or investment, spelling threats to air, water, climate stability, and ecosystems.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The deal replicates the same, inadequate list of seven MEAs that were reinforced in the last
four U.S. trade agreements. (The 2019 revision returns to the inadequate status quo after the 2018 deal took a step
backwards by only effectively reinforcing one MEA.) The deal makes no mention of additional top-priority MEAs
that serve critical roles for trade-related environmental protection, including other MEAs ratified by the U.S. and/or
nearly all countries in the world concerning climate change, transboundary air pollution, mercury pollution,
protection of the Caribbean, and other environmental priorities.
4. A new, independent and binding enforcement system to stop environmental violations: FAIL
● Why it matters: Under the enforcement mechanisms of existing U.S. trade agreements, the U.S. has never even
brought a case against a trade partner for systemic environmental abuses, despite widely documented violations.
To correct this categorical failure, we have repeatedly called for an effective enforcement mechanism that is both
binding and independent. That means creating a body of environmental experts, independent from any
government (to avoid conflicts of interest), to proactively investigate and initiate cases against environmental
abuses. And it means that findings of environmental abuses must be subject to trade sanctions.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: Instead of including an independent and binding enforcement system for environmental
terms, the 2018 deal largely replicated the same, weak enforcement mechanisms of past trade deals that have
consistently failed to curb environmental abuses. The 2019 revision repeats this failure, as it does not create an
independent body to investigate and initiate cases against environmental abuses. Instead, the implementing
legislation for NAFTA 2.0 creates an “interagency committee” that is not independent and that has virtually no
power to correct environmental abuses. The committee can only write non-binding reports and in rare instances
issue non-binding recommendations. The committee is chaired by the U.S. Trade Representative, an agency
whose clear conflict of interest has consistently inhibited environmental enforcement in U.S. trade deals to date.
Due to this copy and paste of a failed enforcement system, the environmental terms of NAFTA 2.0, even if they
were strong, are unlikely to be enforced.
5. Removal of corporate polluter handouts that support tar sands oil and fracked gas: FAIL
● Why it matters: The Trump administration’s 2018 text included a new “rule of origin” that would make it cheaper
for oil corporations to export climate-polluting tar sands oil to the U.S. through dangerous oil pipelines like
Keystone XL. The text also failed to include a provision that is needed to preserve the U.S.’s autonomy to
determine if gas exports to Mexico and Canada are in the public interest. This provision is necessary to fix
NAFTA’s automatic gas export guarantee, which has contributed to a five-fold surge in gas exports to Mexico
since 2010, fueling increased fracking in the U.S. and expansion of controversial cross-border gas pipelines.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The deal’s 2019 revision keeps intact both of these handouts to corporate polluters. As
such, the deal would promote reliance on fossil fuels, undercutting our transition to a clean energy economy.
6. Elimination of broad rights for corporate polluters to sue Mexico over environmental policies: FAIL
● Why it matters: While the 2018 text curtailed NAFTA’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement system, it preserved
this illegitimate, shadow legal system for notorious corporate polluters like Chevron and ExxonMobil. The deal
would let oil and gas corporations with Mexican government contracts sue Mexico over climate and
environmental protections in private tribunals, using the same broad corporate rights that they’ve repeatedly used
to successfully challenge environmental policies.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The 2019 revision failed to eliminate this clear-cut handout to oil and gas corporations. As
such, the revised deal would allow corporate polluters to sue Mexico in private tribunals if new environmental
policies undercut their government contracts for offshore drilling, fracking, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, or
other polluting activities.
7. Elimination of rules that would help corporate polluters weaken our environmental regulations: FAIL
● Why it matters: The 2018 text included new, binding rules – not found in any prior U.S. trade agreement – that
offer corporations multiple opportunities to challenge proposed regulations before they are finalized, and to ask
that existing regulations be “repealed” for being more burdensome than necessary. After Donald Trump leaves
office, we will need to swiftly enact stronger environmental regulations to reverse his administration’s many
harmful environmental rollbacks. That task will be difficult if regulators face onerous requirements to justify
proposed regulations in response to repeated challenges from the corporations that would be regulated.
● What’s in NAFTA 2.0: The deal’s 2019 revision failed to revise or delete these deregulatory rules. As such,
NAFTA 2.0 could help corporations slow down or weaken the process of re-regulation, extending Trump’s
polluting legacy even after Trump leaves office.
Taken From: https://www.sierraclub.org/sites/www.sierraclub.org/files/Trump-NAFTA-Environment-Failure.pdf
WASHINGTON – Today, the administration and U.S. House Democrats announced they had reached an agreement on a redo of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that Donald Trump signed last year. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, issued the following preliminary statement about the revised revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA):
Thanks to congressional Democrats, unions and consumer groups fighting to remove Big Pharma giveaways and improve labor and environmental terms, the redo of Trump’s 2018 NAFTA 2.0 is better than the original NAFTA and could improve peoples’ lives, although it still includes problematic terms.
Trump failed to fix NAFTA with the deal he signed last year, betraying his promise to working people. It included new Big Pharma giveaways that lock in high drug prices and labor and environmental terms that were too weak to stop NAFTA’s original sin of job outsourcing.
Working people are the winners in the yearlong battle to force Trump to fix his NAFTA 2.0: The changes Trump was forced to make mean the final deal could counter some of NAFTA’s ongoing damage to working people and the environment. Although many NAFTA flaws were not fixed, the alternative is status quo NAFTA, not a more improved deal.
The best feature of the new NAFTA is the gutting of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Using this regime, corporations have extracted almost $400 million from North American taxpayers after attacks on environmental and health policies before tribunals of three corporate lawyers. That a U.S. pact largely eliminates extreme ISDS protections for foreign investors and anti-democratic tribunals sends a signal worldwide about the illegitimacy of the ISDS regime.
Trump’s claim that this new NAFTA will bring back hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs is absurd. However, over time, the labor and environmental standards and enhanced enforcement terms may help raise wages in Mexico, and this may also reduce U.S. corporations’ incentives to outsource U.S. jobs to Mexico to pay workers less.
Today’s deal shows that to be politically viable, trade pacts can no longer include extreme corporate rights like ISDS or new monopoly protections for Big Pharma that have been featured in past U.S. trade deals and that they must have enforceable labor and environmental standards. This is a significant shift after decades of U.S. trade pacts expanding corporate rights and Big Pharma monopoly protections.
Fixing the existing, damaging NAFTA is not the same as negotiating a truly progressive trade agreement from scratch, which would additionally require climate provisions, truly enforceable currency disciplines, and the elimination of limits on consumer protections for food, product safety, the service sector and online platforms. The new NAFTA is not the template for future agreements, but establishes the floor from which we will continue to advocate for a new model of trade and globalization that puts people and the planet first.
Taken From: https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2019/12/10/redo-usmca-better-original-nafta-after-yearlong-effort-improve-trumps-2018-deal
By Ethan Earle and Andreas Günther
8 Introduction: Beyond NAFTA 2.0
By the Editors
12 Toward a New Multilateral Trade System
By Sarah Anderson, Andrés Peñaloza Méndez, and Stuart Trew
16 International Investment Agreements and ISDS
By Sarah Anderson, Alberto Arroyo, and Manuel Pérez-Rocha
23 Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Affordable Medicines
By Scott Sinclair
30 Digital Trade
By Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood
36 Labor Standards
By Scott Sinclair
43 Women’s Rights and Gender Equity
By María Atilano, Lucía Bárcena, Nadia Ibrahim, and Cristina Pina
49 Alternative Agricultural Systems
By Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Leticia López, and Enrique Pérez
54 Indigenous Rights
By Paulina Acevedo Menanteau
59 Environmental Protection and Climate Change
By Manuel Pérez-Rocha
66 Regulatory Cooperation and “Good Regulatory Practices”
By Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew
72 Public Services
By Scott Sinclair
79 Conclusion: Toward a Progressive Trade Agenda for People and Planet
By the Editors
List of Acronyms
AMLO: Andrés Manuel López Obrador
ALBA: the Bolivarian Alliance for the
Peoples of our America
BIT: Bilateral Investment Treaty
CEDAW: Convention to Eliminate All Forms
of Discrimination Against Women
CETA: Comprehensive Economic
and Trade Agreement
COOL: Country-of-Origin Labeling
CPTPP: Comprehensive and Progressive
CSO: Civil Society Organization
EPSU: European Federation
of Public Service Unions
EU: European Union
FTA: Free Trade Agreement
GATS: General Agreement
on Trade in Services
GMO: Genetically Modified Organism
GRP: Good Regulatory Practice
HRC: Human Rights Council
IIA: International Investment Agreement
ICS: Investment Court System
ILO: International Labour Organization
IP: Intellectual Property
IPRs: Intellectual Property Rights
ISDS: Investor-State Dispute Settlement
ISP: Internet Service Provider
MIC: Multilateral Investment Court
MSME: Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise
NAFTA: North American
Free Trade Agreement
NGO: Non-Governmental Organization
OECD: Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development
OHCHR: Office of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights of the United Nations
OMB: Office of Management and Budget
PMPRB: Patented Medicine Prices
RIA: Regulatory Impact Assessment
SDG: Sustainable Development Goals
SIA: Sustainability Impact Assessments
SPS: Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards
SME: Small and Medium-sized Enterprise
SOE: State-Owned Enterprises
SSE: Social and Solidarity Economy
TBT: Technical Barriers to Trade
TiSA: Trade in Services Agreement
TNC: Transnational Corporation
TPP: Trans-Pacific Partnership
TRIPS: Trade-Related Aspects
of Intellectual Property Rights
TTIP: Transatlantic Trade
and Investment Partnership
UN: United Nations
UNCITRAL: United Nations Commission
on International Trade Law
UNCTAD: United Nations Conference
on Trade and Development
UNIPCC: United Nations Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change
UPOV: International Union for the
Protection of New Varieties of Plants
USMCA: United States-Mexico-Canada
USTR: United States Trade Representative
WHO: World Health Organization
WTO: World Trade Organization
Taken From: https://ips-dc.org/report-beyond-nafta/
Thanks to its public biotech sector and its government’s deep commitment to public health, Cuba is now the only low-income country to have made its own COVID vaccine. It’s already helped millions of Cubans, and it’s poised to help millions more around the world.
Much of the press coverage of Cuba last week focused on the anti-government protests that didn’t eventuate. Less covered has been something of potentially greater global significance: its vaccination drive.
After a dire twelve months, when a too hasty reopening sent the pandemic surging, deaths peaking, and the country back into a crippling shutdown, a successful vaccination program has turned the pandemic around in the country. Cuba is now one of the few lower-income countries to have not only vaccinated a majority of its population, but the only one to have done so with a vaccine it developed on its own.
The saga suggests a path forward for the developing world as it continues struggling with the pandemic in the face of ongoing corporate-driven vaccine apartheid, and points more broadly to what’s possible when medical science is decoupled from private profit.
According to Johns Hopkins University, as of the time of writing, Cuba has fully vaccinated 78 percent of its people, putting it ninth in the world, above wealthy countries like Denmark, China, and Australia (the United States, with a little below 60 percent of its population vaccinated, is ranked fifty-sixth). The turnaround since the vaccination campaign began in May has revived the country’s fortunes in the face of the twin shocks of the pandemic and an intensifying US blockade.
After a peak of nearly ten thousand infections and close to one hundred deaths each day, both figures have now plummeted. With 100 percent of the country having taken at least one vaccine dose by the end of last month, the country reopened its borders on November 15 to tourism, roughly a tenth of its economy, and has reopened schools. This makes Cuba an outlier among low-income countries, which have vaccinated only 2.8 percent of their combined populations. This is owed largely to vaccine hoarding by the developed world and their jealous guarding of patent monopolies, which bar poorer countries from developing generic versions of the vaccines that were produced through public funding in the first place.
Key to this outcome was Cuba’s decision to develop its own vaccines, two of which — Abdala, named for a poem penned by an independence hero, and Soberana 2, Spanish for “sovereign” — were finally given official regulatory approval in July and August. In the words of Vicente Vérez Bencomo, the internationally acclaimed head of the country’s Finlay Vaccine Institute, the country was “betting it safe” by waiting longer to manufacture its own vaccines. This way, it would avoid dependence on bigger allies like Russia and China while adding a new commercial export at a time of ongoing economic hardship.
These efforts are already underway. Vietnam, with only 39 percent of its population fully vaccinated, inked a deal to buy 5 million vaccine doses, with Cuba recently shipping more than 1 million of them to its communist ally, 150,000 of which were donated. Venezuela (32 percent fully vaccinated) also agreed to buy $12 million worth of the three-dose vaccine and has already started administering it, while Iran (51 percent) and Nigeria (1.6 percent) have agreed to partner with the country to develop their own homegrown vaccines. Syria (4.2 percent) has recently discussed with Cuban officials the prospect of doing the same.
The two vaccines are part of a suite of five COVID vaccines Cuba is developing. That includes a vaccine delivered nasally that’s progressed to Phase II of clinical studies, one of only five vaccines in the entire world that have a nasal application, according to one of its top scientists, that could be particularly useful if proven to be safe and effective, given the virus’s entry through the nasal cavity. It also includes a booster shot specially designed to work for those already inoculated with other vaccines, and which was recently trialed on Italian tourists. Since September, Cuba’s been in the process of getting World Health Organization approval for its vaccines, which would open the door to its widespread adoption.
Several aspects make Cuba’s vaccines unique besides their country of origin, according to Helen Yaffe, senior lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow. At the heart of it is Cuba’s decision to pursue a more traditional protein vaccine rather than the more experimental mRNA technology used for the COVID vaccines we’ve become familiar with, which had been in development for decades before the onset of the pandemic led to a breakthrough.
Because of this, Cuba’s vaccine can be kept in a fridge or even at room temperature, as opposed to the subpolar temperatures the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at or the freezer temperatures Moderna’s vaccine requires. “In the Global South, where huge amounts of the population have no access to electricity, it’s just another technological obstacle,” says Yaffe.
And while the mRNA technology, which has never been used on kids before, has meant a lag between adult and child vaccination in the developed world — and means vaccines for kids under five are still being developed — Cuba aimed from the outset to create a vaccine that kids could take. As of this month, it’s fully vaccinated more than four-fifths of all kids aged two to eighteen.
While roughly two-thirds of all kids were shut out from school in Latin America and the Caribbean as of September, Cuba has now reopened its classrooms. Gloria La Riva, an activist and independent reporter who has been visiting Cuba throughout the year and has been in Havana since mid-October, described the scene at the Ciudad Escolar 26 de Julio as parents and grandparents turned out for the school’s reopening.
“It’s a very big thing for the families,” she says. “Everyone feels this enormous pride.”
There’s one more factor that sets the Cuban vaccine apart. “The Cuban vaccine is 100 percent entirely a product of a public biotech sector,” says Yaffe.
While in the United States and other developed countries, lifesaving medicines are developed thanks largely to public funding before their profits and distribution are ruthlessly privatized for corporate enrichment, Cuba’s biotech sector is wholly publicly owned and funded. That means Cuba has de-commodified a vital human resource — the exact opposite policy direction that we’ve seen in these last four decades of neoliberalism.
Cuba has poured billions of dollars into creating a domestic biotech industry since the 1980s, when a combination of an outbreak of dengue fever and new economic sanctions from then president Ronald Reagan forced its hand. Despite a crushing blockade by the United States, responsible for a third of the world’s pharmaceutical production, Cuba’s biotech sector has thrived: it makes nearly 70 percent of the roughly eight hundred medicines that Cubans consume and eight of the eleven vaccines in the country’s national immunization program, and it exports hundreds of millions of vaccines a year. The revenues are then reinvested into the sector.
“All these vaccines that have a very large impact on science are very expensive vaccines, economically inaccessible to the country,” Vérez Bencomo said recently about Cuba’s decision to develop its own vaccines.
The sector is internationally acclaimed. Cuba has won ten Gold Medals from the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for, among other things, developing the world’s first meningitis B vaccine in 1989. In 2015, Cuba became the first country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, a result of both the retroviral drugs it had produced and its robust public health care system.
In this way, Cuba has been able to do the unthinkable, developing its own vaccine and outdoing much of the developed world in overcoming the pandemic, despite its size and level of wealth, and despite a policy of concerted economic strangulation from a hostile government off its shores. International solidarity efforts have been vital, too. When the US blockade meant a shortage of syringes on the island, jeopardizing its vaccination campaign, solidarity groups from the United States alone sent 6 million syringes to Cuba, with the Mexican government sending eight hundred thousand more, and more than one hundred thousand on top of that coming from Cubans in China.
Even so, there is some uncertainty around Cuba’s vaccines. Their use in Venezuela has met objection from the country’s pediatric physicians unions and medical and scientific academies, on the same basis as other critics, who say the vaccine trial results haven’t been peer-reviewed and published in international scientific journals. The Pan American Health Organization has called on Cuba to make the results public.
For his part, Vérez Bencomo blames an international community hostile to Cuba. In a September interview, he charged that Cuba’s scientists were being discriminated against by major journals, who he said had a history of rejecting submissions from Cubans while later publishing similar research from other countries, and act as “a barrier that tends to marginalize scientific results that come from poor countries.”
These are pretty serious charges from a globally respected scientist. A winner of the Cuban National Chemistry Award and a 2005 WIPO Gold Medal, Vérez Bencomo led the team that worked with a Canadian scientist to develop the world’s first semisynthetic vaccine, creating a more affordable shot to protect against Haemophilus influenzae type B. Upon helping develop the low-cost vaccine against meningitis, he was barred in 2005 from traveling to California to accept an award for it, with the George W. Bush State Department deeming his visit “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” In 2015, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor by France’s then minister of social affairs and health, who commended him for his work and called him a “friend of France.” (Vérez Bencomo did not respond to a request for an interview).
While Cuba’s rebound from the pandemic suggests his and the Cuban government’s confidence in the vaccines isn’t misplaced, it may take some more time for them to get the international scientific community’s official imprimatur. Should it come, it would prove a powerful refutation of the corporate-driven vaccine model that has so far dominated, which holds that, in line with the talking points of Big Pharma, only profit-driven competition can produce the kind of lifesaving innovation the world is desperate for.
Perhaps more importantly, it may be a way for the developing world to finally crawl out of the pandemic-shaped hole it looks no nearer to escaping now, months after vaccines have been rolled out in wealthy countries. Western governments have continued to oppose calls from the Global South to waive vaccine patents and allow them to manufacture or buy cheaper generic versions, leaving the vast majority of the world’s people still vulnerable to the virus — and, ironically, endangering us all, should new, vaccine-resistant strains mutate in the country-sized petri dishes this unbalanced policy has created. In that sense, we should all hope that Cuba’s vaccines are proven as successful as its scientists are sure they are.
Taken From: https://jacobinmag.com/2021/11/cuban-covid-vaccine-pandemic-biotech-research
Global Nurses United
November 29, 2021
A coalition of nurses unions representing well over 2.5 million health care workers from 28 countries around the world, coordinated by Global Nurses United (GNU) and the Progressive International (PI), have filed a complaint with the United Nations alleging human rights violations by the European Union, the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, and Singapore during the Covid-19 pandemic, whose end, they write “is nowhere in sight.”
In their complaint addressed to Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Physical and Mental Health, the nurses charge that “these countries have violated our rights and the rights of our patients — and caused the loss of countless lives” through “continued opposition to the TRIPS waiver … resulting in the violation of human rights of peoples across the world.”
Read the full text of the complaint and cover letter here.
The European Union, the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, and Singapore have consistently blocked a temporary waiver of corporate pharmaceutical intellectual property rights under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). The South African and Indian governments proposed the waiver at the WTO last year as a way to speed up the manufacture and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to low- and moderate-income countries. More than 45 percent of the world’s population still has not received even one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“Covid-19 cases continue to soar in numerous parts of the world, while pharmaceutical companies and governments have failed to ensure that critical treatments and vaccines are distributed equitably in order to respond to the pandemic,” the nurses’ unions wrote. “High-income countries have procured upwards of 7 billion confirmed vaccine doses, while low-income countries have only been able to procure approximately 300 million doses. This has created what public health advocates around the world have described as ‘vaccine apartheid.’”
Dr. Mofokeng responded, welcoming the position presented by nurses and activists.
“The nurses’ core demand is one I share: States have a collective responsibility to use all available means to facilitate faster access to vaccines, including by introducing a temporary waiver of relevant intellectual property rights under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement),” she said. “Nurses and health care workers have been on the front line keeping us safe and have witnessed the most painful and heart-wrenching effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their evident commitment to the right to physical and mental health provides them with moral authority.”
Signers of the petition include leading nurse/health care unions from Australia (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation), Brazil (Federação Nacional dos Enfermeiros), Canada (Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec), Costa Rica (Asociación Nacional de Profesionales en Enfermería [A.N.P.E.]), Curacao (Curaçaose Bond Van Werknemers in Verplegende en Verzorgende Instgellingen), Dominican Republic (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Enfermería), Greece (Pan-Hellenic Federation of Nursing Staff (PASONOP), Guatemala (Sindicato Nacional de los Trabajadores de Salud de Guatemala), Honduras (Asociación Nacional de Enfermeras/os Auxiliares de Honduras), India (United Nurses Association), Ireland (Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation), Israel (Israeli Nurses Association), Italy (Nursind), Kenya (Kenya National Union of Nurses), Malawi (National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi), New Zealand (New Zealand Nurses Organisation), Paraguay (Asociación Paraguaya de Enfermería), Philippines (Filipino Nurses United), Portugal (Sindicato dos Enfermeiros Portugueses), Rwanda (Rwanda Nurses and Midwives Union), South Africa (The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa [DENOSA]), South Korea (Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union), Spain (Sindicato de Enfermería [SATSE]), Sri Lanka (Government Nursing Officers’ Association), Taiwan (Taiwan Nurses Union), Uganda (Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union), the United States (National Nurses United), and Uruguay (Sindicato Unico de Enfermería del Uruguay [SUEU]).
PI submitted the full complaint—which draws on human rights obligations that WTO member states are legally bound to, including the recent expert opinion by the International Commission of Jurists stating that “it is incumbent on all states to desist from blocking the TRIPS waiver”—on behalf of the coalition to Dr. Mofokeng on the eve of a Nov. 30 WTO ministerial meeting in Geneva. The complaint calls on Dr. Mofokeng to lead an investigation into the “immediate threat to people’s right to health caused by failure by the certain states and institutions (European Union and its constituent member states, United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, and Singapore) to support the Covid-19 waiver proposal at the TRIPS council in the World Trade Organization.”
Despite the landmark support of President Biden in May to endorse the waiver, at the urging of National Nurses United and numerous health care and human rights activists, it continues to be blocked by the United Kingdom, the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, and Singapore on behalf of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry.
“This unequal distribution of vaccines is not only grossly unjust for the people in low- and moderate-income countries, who remain at high risk for contracting and further transmitting Covid-19, it also provides for the possibility for the development of new variants… (which) poses a dire risk to all people around the world,” said NNU President Deborah Burger, RN.
“The maldistribution of vaccines in the face of more than 5 million deaths, many of them preventable, is a devastating reminder of the deplorable disparity of wealth between the rich nations of the north and the global south,” Burger continued. “To refuse to act simply to protect the profits of giant pharmaceutical corporations is unconscionable, inhumane, and must be ended.”
“It is way past time for the governments of the world to prioritize the health of the people over the profits of multinational corporations by approving the vaccine waiver,” said Shirley Marshal Díaz Morales, President of the Federação Nacional dos Enfermeiros, representing 632,000 nurses in Brazil. “Nurses around the world have cared for patients throughout this pandemic and have seen unbelievable suffering and death, and so many nurses themselves have gotten ill and paid the ultimate sacrifice. It is disgraceful that almost half the world’s population still does not have access to the Covid-19 vaccine. As long as this situation persists, none of us is safe.”
“These criminal governments have shown their disregard for health and human rights by blocking a proposal that would speed up global vaccine roll out. Their actions have and will continue to cost countless lives and wreck livelihoods. They must be held to account,” said Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla, a member of the PI’s cabinet.
“The peoples of the world can take back their international institutions that have been hijacked by a handful of rich nations. The UN charter, the WTO, WHO, and international law should benefit all of humanity. As a first step, we must expose and then defeat the Covid-19 criminals,” Gandikota-Nellutla continued.
“Nurses and other health care workers have been on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic response, and we have witnessed the staggering numbers of deaths and the immense suffering caused by political inaction. We have directly seen the frightening toll that Covid-19 has had on our patients, our communities, and our fellow health care workers,” the petition noted.
“Hundreds of thousands of nurses and other health care workers around the world have become infected and many have died. Covid-19 has claimed the lives of at least 115,000 healthcare workers around the world so far,” they wrote. “The artificial scarcity of vaccines means that only two in five health and care workers are fully vaccinated on average, but the numbers are catastrophic in many parts of the world—less than one in 10 healthcare workers are fully vaccinated in the African and Western Pacific regions.”
“We believe,” they concluded, “a new international health order is needed to overcome the vaccine inequity which threatens our very survival… to collective benefit, based on the principles of sovereignty, solidarity, and the universal right to life.”
Members of the public can show their support for the nurses’ action by adding their name to it at covid19criminals.exposed.
Global Nurses United represents more than 30 leading nurses and healthcare workers unions on every continent.
The Progressive International launched in May 2020 with a mission to unite, organize, and mobilize progressive forces around the world. The PI is supported by an advisory council that includes Noam Chomsky, Aruna Roy, Vijay Prashad, Andres Arauz, Naomi Klein, Yanis Varoufakis, Fernando Haddad, Gustavo Petro, and many others. Members of the PI include social movements, political parties, and trade unions that represent millions of people around the world.
Legal support was extended by a coalition of human rights lawyers convened by the Global Network of Movement Lawyers at Movement Law Lab, with appreciation for the contributions of the ESCR-Net Secretariat, Gautam Bhatia, and Christian Pino.
Taken From: https://www.nationalnursesunited.org/press/nurses-from-28-countries-file-un-complaint-alleging-human-rights-violations
The United States government’s announcement this week that eligible people can receive a third “booster” shot of Moderna or Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines comes as less than two percent of people in low-income countries have received even a single dose of any vaccine. Israel, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have either begun providing boosters or are planningto.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reacted swiftly, calling for a moratorium on third shots. Director-general Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said, “We cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it.” Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s head of emergencies, drew a visual comparison, handing out extra life jackets to people who already have them, leaving others to drown.
The race for boosters is another chapter in the sordid story of global vaccine shortages and inequities. Horror continues to unfold as the delta variant rips through populations that have no access to vaccines and guts health systems.
While scientists developed vaccines at unprecedented speed, the behavior of many of the world’s richest governments and pharmaceutical corporationscontinues to undermine universal, equitable, and affordable access to those vaccines.
Governments invested tens of billions of dollars of public funds in vaccine development but so far have failed to cooperate and share the benefits of scientific research internationally. Instead of conditioning their funds in ways to make vaccines widely available and affordable, powerful governments negotiated opaque bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies or other entities. They also reserved vaccine doses largely for their own populations and walked back pledges for more equitable distribution.
International human rights law obliges governments to refrain from actions that frustrate the efforts of other governments to comply with their human rights obligations, including when negotiating international agreements or participating in decisions as members of international organizations. Yet, when rich governments impede access to vaccines, either by buying up more than is equitable or by hamstringing speedier vaccine manufacturing and distribution through blocking intellectual property waivers at the World Trade Organization, that is what is happening.
Wealthy governments are compounding vaccine shortage and inequities by planning to use another billion doses as “boosters” rather than focusing on distributing more vaccines around the world.
Severe Covid-19 symptoms and death can be prevented with vaccines. By opting for boosters, the US and other rich governments are making a policy choice that would result in more deaths and disease.
Taken From: https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/19/global-covid-19-vaccine-equity-should-get-booster-too
Wealthy countries around the world are preparing to offer a third shot of Covid-19 vaccines to their populations. Meanwhile, vaccination remains out of reach for the vast majority of Africans.
The highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus is sweeping Africa in a deadly third wave of the pandemic. Over the last month, there has been an 80-percent increase in cases across the continent, with South Africa alone reporting more than 14,000 new cases in a single day. Despite the fact that fewer than 2 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated, wealthy countries such as the United States are making plans for booster shots for their populations, continuing to hoard doses in a stunning show of vaccine imperialism and capitalist irrationality.
The current wave is Africa’s deadliest so far, and is taking a toll on the continent’s battered economies and prospects for recovery. More than 7.4 million cases and 187,000 deaths have been recorded across Africa’s 54 countries, although researchers believe that the real figure is likely much higher. Hospitals are overwhelmed, pushed to the brink in health systems already poorly funded and stretched thin, with shortages of medical oxygen and other critical supplies.
The continent’s extremely low vaccination rate is one of the major causes behind the recent spike in cases and deaths. More than half of all Americans and Europeans are fully vaccinated, compared to only 2 percent of Africans. While the World Health Organization (WHO) initially set a goal for countries in the region to vaccinate at least 40 percent of their populations by the end of this year, at the current rate nearly 70 percent of African countries will enter 2022 with less than 10 percent of their populations vaccinated against Covid-19. Some countries may not even see vaccines until as late as 2023.
Meanwhile, European countries and the United States are planning to give booster shots to their populations to provide additional protection against the Delta variant. In other words, while the majority of Africans are desperate for their first vaccine dose, people in wealthy countries will soon be offered their third.
The WHO has been harshly critical of this. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director in Africa, has said that these wealthy nations “make a mockery out of vaccine equity,” especially following revelations that some Johnson & Johnson doses have even been exported to Europe from South Africa. The WHO is urging countries to focus on helping poorer countries catch up to the high vaccination rates of the Global North rather than hoarding even more doses.
These warnings from the WHO, the United Nations, and other bodies are correct: vaccine inequality is unconscionable, and doses that are used as boosters for the wealthy are being taken from the supply that should be used to provide a first dose to people in poorer countries on the African continent and elsewhere. Without vaccines, these countries will not only experience tragic, repeated spikes in cases and deaths, but will also have to endure disastrous economic consequences. Researchers are already reporting that Covid-19 will wreak greater havoc on African economies than other recent crises, including the 2008 global recession and the 2014 Ebola outbreak. While the United States and other wealthy countries have begun to recover from the fallout of the pandemic, inequalities between the Global North and South will be exacerbated as African countries struggle to return to normal, all the while remaining under the boot of Western imperialism.
However, the WHO’s statements also ring hollow and drip with cynicism. While the WHO may call for wealthy countries to share vaccines with the Global South, it does not call for lifting vaccine patents, the only measure that can truly put an end to the shortage. The WHO is an integral part of the system that prioritizes megaprofits for pharmaceutical companies over human lives.
Vaccine inequality also means even greater community spread of Covid-19, which will give rise to new mutations — perhaps ones even more infectious than the Delta variant, and resistant to current vaccines. This puts all of humanity at risk, and shows capitalist irrationality on full display.
It is clear that there is no way to reconcile capitalist interests with global health, and we cannot depend on the UN, WHO, or any other organizations of the world capitalist order to resolve this crisis. Only lifting patents and sharing formulas and technical know-how will allow countries with the capacity to produce the vaccine — of which there are many — to do so, and enable mass vaccination campaigns across the world.
IN AN OPINION PIECE early last month, the Washington Post’s free-market shill Marc A. Thiessen bubbled with praise for the pharmaceutical industry, which, he wrote, “mobilized to rescue humanity” during the pandemic. The headline: “Democrats demonized Big Pharma. Now it’s saving us from covid-19.”
Such a simplistic morality tale is absurd on its face: much of the suspicion of Big Pharma’s vaccines is coming from the right—or from the politically amorphous “anti-vax” movement. And even as regulatory caution and press scrutiny raise fears of side effects from the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines, about 66 million Americans were fully vaccinated as of last week. It’s been mostly good press for the big drug companies since Pfizer announced in November that its first-to-market vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, with the companies enjoying not just a windfall in new revenue, but a boost in brand awareness and public image.
The industry has not been modest in this moment. “I believe this is likely the most significant medical advance in the last 100 years, if you count the impact this will have in public health [and the] global economy,” Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla proclaimed when its trial results were announced. On that same day, Bourla happened to cash in $5.6 million of Pfizer stocks. “I feel like I should just send Albert some money myself to be like ‘Thank You,’” one biotech analyst told CNBC. (The CEO was awarded more than $21 million in total pay for 2020.) In our springtime euphoria over widespread distribution of vaccines in the United States, not many Americans are “demonizing” the drug companies. Some may credit Big Pharma with saving us not just from a disease but from economic collapse.
Yet one only needs to step back a few paces to recognize the strangeness of this phase in the nation’s economic life. We’ve witnessed a national rescue effort that has almost nothing to do with corporate leadership or free-market principles. Under a Republican administration, the federal government invested heavily in vaccine research and development. Although federal financing of drug development has always subsidized Big Pharma’s profits, the pandemic pumped public dollars into the industry in an unprecedented way. And then the U.S. government became the sole purchaser of the drug-company-branded vaccines—buying back its own subsidized vaccines.
The Trump administration funneled $10 billion into the Operation Warp Speed program, including $1.95 billion to Pfizer for 100 million vaccine doses. The payout was guaranteed, even if the vaccine failed to receive emergency authorization. Similar purchasing arrangements were made with Moderna, which also received $1.5 billion for research. Four other pharmaceutical companies joined Operation Warp Speed and scooped up heaps of taxpayer dollars.
“Socialism led to rapid vaccine development,” Arthur Caplan, the founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU School of Medicine, told me last week: “Government-sponsored contracts, government-sponsored research, not the free market. The free market never would have done it.”
The policies of the Trump administration have been avidly advanced by the new Democratic administration. And even as state and local governments coordinated the distribution of the products, ordinary citizens got a glimpse of what “socialized medicine” would be like: you walk in, get a treatment, and walk out with no discussion of the cost and no bill arriving later in the mail.
At the same time, it’s a distinctly American variant of “socialism,” in which inequities in health care meant limited access for those in less affluent zip codes, especially Black Americans, and in which the risks and costs are socialized, while plenty of profit flows to big corporations. And it’s also distinctly American in that the government effort to align corporate policies with public health pretty much stops at the United States’ borders.
Now another crisis looms, one obscured by all the good will Big Pharma has garnered over the past six months: cases of Covid anywhere in the world endanger the health of those everywhere—and beyond the United States and Europe, many countries are struggling to obtain any doses of Covid-19 vaccines at all. In the current highest bidder system, it could be years before those in low-income countries receive doses, because wealthy countries have monopolized the available supply.
The obvious question that arises in a global public health crisis is: Why should life-saving vaccines be controlled by a few big companies with an interest in selling them to the wealthiest nations? The answer, of course, is that vaccines are proprietary—the “recipe” is the intellectual property of the companies that sell them. Now, after nearly a year of pressure from international organizations and more than two months into Biden’s term, the White House is considering temporarily suspending the intellectual property laws that protect Big Pharma’s profitable Covid-19 formulas and manufacturing techniques, according to a recent CNBC report.
Removing IP protections for Covid vaccines would allow the manufacture and distribution of vaccines in low- and middle-income countries, making distribution more equitable. “It should have been done a year ago,” Caplan told me of dropping IP laws, because “it put people at risk of death and in harm’s way for no reason.”
There was a brief moment when it looked like vaccine manufacture and distribution could be relatively affordable around the globe. Last year, when Oxford University suggested that it would donate its vaccine recipe to the world, watchers hoped that egalitarianism might lead to open sourcing of vaccine formulas, circumventing intellectual property laws. But the hope was short-lived.
Bill Gates, under the auspices of his foundation, which has made global health one of its missions, convinced Oxford to instead partner with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. The deal reflected the multi-billionaire’s passion for patents, the source of his wealth.
When asked about this intervention, Gates said that the challenge of manufacturing quality drugs was far too great for just any old company to pick up. Oxford needed to place their formula in the hands of a corporation with expertise, he said, meaning a company invested in the high-stakes game of profiting off of the world’s plague.
For decades Big Pharma has blamed their sky-high, inaccessible prices on research and development costs. Like hostage takers, the industry has said, essentially, regulate our pricing and we’ll stop working on important new drugs. Despite the fact that most new drug innovation is done by the National Institutes of Health or smaller development companies that are often bought out by Big Pharma, the line that price controls will stifle innovation is practically canon.
But with the very public federal effort to fund research for the Covid-19 vaccine, “complex manufacturing” began to do the rhetorical work of “stifling innovation,” keeping the vaccine’s profits high and in the hands of a select few corporations. Some pharmaceutical companies do manufacture their products in-house, Caplan told me, but many others, like Johnson & Johnson, already farm out manufacturing.
Gates’s aw-shucks meddling ensured that Big Pharma would not lose out on the unprecedented profits (derived from NIH subsidized development, the largess of Operation Warp Speed, and direct contracts with foreign governments) the Covid pandemic would undoubtedly bring. And it ensured that he and his foundation would once again get applause for its neoliberal altruism, the world’s current sad solution for global health disparity.
With Gates’s intervention, the precedent was set; those in need of vaccines were going to have to compete on “the free market.” As Jay Hancock wrote at Kaiser Health News last August, “Other companies working on coronavirus vaccines have followed the same line [as Oxford], collecting billions in government grants, hoarding patents, revealing as little as possible about their deals—and planning to charge up to $37 a dose for potentially hundreds of millions of shots.”
Early this year the Ukrainian government was forced to choose between honoring its own laws or vaccinating its people. One of the poorest countries in Europe, Ukraine experienced a revolution seven years ago that highlighted the former prime minister’s use of public funds for personal decadence. The new administration promptly ushered in a raft of anti-corruption laws that require full disclosure of nearly all government contracts.
But when Covid-19 infected 1.3 million of Ukraine’s 41 million residents and killed more than 30,000, the country found that their best chance at purchasing a mass amount of vaccine doses would mean doing business with American and European pharmaceutical companies that require strict nondisclosure agreements for all vaccine purchases.
In the past many of the same companies now contracted for Covid-19 vaccines shied away from entering the vaccination market because the drugs are often single-dose (unlike drugs for chronic diseases), which means a lack of repeat customers. Operation Warp Speed altered the vaccine business though, with its rich government pay-outs for research and development, a vast potential customer base, and government management of distribution.
But this new arrangement means that a country like Ukraine, hoping to secure vaccines for its people, is forced to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies that in turn demand confidentiality regarding contract details. Little specific or reliable information is available about what some countries are paying, forcing others to negotiate in the dark. You could more accurately call it extortion. For countries historically and repeatedly fucked over by Western empire, colonial hegemony, internal corruption, and corporate resource extraction, coughing up $37 per dose is impossible.
We should be pooling everything, both the research and the expertise associated with manufacturing,” Dean Baker, an expert on intellectual property and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told me in late March. If the vaccine formulas—and the manufacturing techniques—had been openly shared back in March of 2020, other companies could theoretically have been ready to begin manufacturing by November or December. International collaboration could have reduced manufacturing and distribution time and saved countless lives.
“There’s just an incredible confusion about the whole meaning of intellectual property,” Baker said. In an article for The Nation in February, Baker chronicles the pro-business evolution of intellectual property laws since the 1970s and estimates that today it annually transfers roughly $1 trillion dollars from the vast majority of us to an elite few. He argues that national and global inequality could be greatly reduced by changing these biased laws. But corporations benefit from public misunderstandings about how intellectual property laws work and who they benefit.
Even now, during a pandemic that has taken millions of lives and still jeopardizes millions more, the veil of “intellectual property” has tainted our moral arguments and perverted the value we place on human life. Baker emphasizes the differences between ideas and property, a distinction that has been erased by decades of extending the duration of copyright and patent protections. “Without Microsoft’s government-granted patent and copyright monopolies,” Baker wrote, “Bill Gates would probably still be working for a living. Many other billionaires and millionaires would be far less wealthy if we had different rules for intellectual property.”
As Daniel Takash and Brink Lindsey wrote in a paper on intellectual property, excerpted at the Niskanen Center in 2019, “Property in physical objects allocates naturally occurring scarcity, whereas extending property rights to ideas creates artificial scarcity.” The authors compare the theft of a neighbor’s apple and the singing of a song written by the neighbor. Once you’ve eaten the apple,
it’s gone (naturally occurring scarcity), but singing the neighbor’s song doesn’t eliminate it. Your neighbor can only forcibly or legally prevent you from singing the song (artificial scarcity).
Imposing property rights on the commons, as our ancestors did, prevented overhunting and the starvation of all—in the face of scarcity, when the “threshold of carrying capacity” of the commons is reached. (This is not a defense of personal property. Nor is it meant to overlook the myriad horrors its imposition caused those already living in the commons.) Communal and state property rights are alternatives to private property, but clearly today not the norm.
Yet by singing your neighbor’s song, you deplete nothing; your neighbor is still free to sing the song; it is still theirs. “Despite the asserted ‘natural right’ to intellectual property,” note Takash and Lindsey, “it is noteworthy that property in ideal objects [ideas, developments] can never arise naturally—that is, without the intervention of a central authority.” Your neighbor, the author of the song, who sang it within “earshot of others . . . can’t monitor their listeners all the time for the rest of their lives to make sure nobody sings it again to others, and they can’t monitor those others because they don’t know who they are.”
If the dominant pharmaceutical companies were really being mobilized to “rescue humanity,” as the Post’s Thiessen put it, they’d have to take seriously the idea that no entity’s enrichment—in any society a moral people wish to be a part of—should be more prized than the health and lives of millions. Are their claims to intellectual property more prized than the lives of one million people? One thousand? One hundred? One? That’s another conversation, and not the one those of us living through a pandemic are having at the moment.
As Baker has pointed out, much of the world’s inequality (and I would clarify: poor health and poverty) is the result of intellectual property laws and their attending “superficial plausibility.” Where is the moral rectitude in the death of millions of people for the protection of a corporation’s stock price, for the ability of that corporation’s board members to live on private islands?
Baker emphasizes that the urgency for sharing intellectual property is greatest in the areas of public health and environment. If, say, a Chinese engineer develops a “new way to store energy, we should want the whole world to get that as quickly as possible,” Baker told me. And Baker’s solution is elegant: governments should buy the rights for the vaccine (or the expert manufacturing technique or the long-life battery) from corporations and make it open access. If they won’t sell, governments should buy the ideas from corporations’ scientists and engineers. “Five million a month for ten months, that would be a fantastic deal,” Baker said. “Would Pfizer really want to bring that lawsuit?”
Russia and China have been criticized for using the distribution of their own vaccines to garner good will with other countries. “The best way to counter that is, why don’t we give our vaccines?” Baker said. The United States could be gaining good will around the globe by overseeing a coordinated effort to make the vaccine more accessible and affordable for everyone. But as distribution stands now, it may take years for herd immunity from vaccination to reach those in poorer countries. Some experts have begun to say that, in this current environment, herd immunity is impossible.
Diplomacy is great, but saving millions of lives is better, particularly when (almost certain) good will is attendant. But the millions of saved lives should always be our focus and indeed our humane objective, attendant good will or not. This should be the new and present standard for American leadership and diplomacy: saving lives as if the ones beyond our borders mattered every bit as much as our own.
By February of this year, the inability of populations outside high-income countries to access vaccines was dire. “Not a single country in sub-Saharan Africa has started immunizations,” Kai Kupferschmidt wrote at Science magazine, while “health care workers [are] dying in places where they are scarce to begin with.” Some exceptions exist (including Seychelles, population ninety-eight thousand, and Mauritius, population 1.3 million; and South Africa rolled out a vaccination program later that month ), but for the most part, Kupferschmidt was right. “Three-quarters of all vaccinations so far have happened in 10 countries that account for 60 percent of global gross domestic product; 130 countries have yet to administer a single dose,” Kupferschmidt wrote at the time. Very little about the system has improved in the past six weeks.
COVAX, the World Health Organization’s effort, formed in conjunction with various other global health initiatives, was established to pool financial contributions to purchase vaccines for middle- and low-income nations. It was founded in 2020 and heavily influenced by the Gates Foundation. COVAX has been only relatively successful at fundraising—it faces a $6.4 billion funding gap this year. “The goal was always limited,” Alexander Zaitchik recently wrote for The New Republic. “It aimed to provide vaccines for up to 20 percent of the population in low-to-middle-income countries.After that, governments would largely have to compete on the global market like everyone else.” While the Trump administration did not join the consortium, the Biden administration has, pledging $4 billion. In recent weeks, COVAX-procured vaccinations began to reach those in need, but structural issues prevail, including the high costs of distribution.
Other challenges, both structural and unforeseen, cripple any effort to bring equity to Covid-19 vaccine distribution, Arthur Caplan, the NYU bioethicist, told me: COVAX doesn’t seem to discern between countries that need the vaccine more than others, nor does it have the influence (or the will) to engage with local politics or corruption that may steer vaccines from needy residents to the elite. “One country that I had some knowledge of was trying to get the vaccine, but they were going to give it to their leaders in the military,” Caplan told me.
The example of COVAX is a bitter one if improving global public health is the objective. Covid-19 has forced us to acknowledge a serious and shameful apathy among wealthy countries toward global poverty and poor health. Caplan called our national malady a “vicious nationalism,” describing our collective attitude as, “it’s sort of three-fifths of a vote for the rest of the world’s population. They just don’t count in the same way,” he said. “There’s some racism built in but it’s, I don’t know, American parochialism. We’re not a worldly people.”
The very tentative White House news that Covid-19 medicines and technologies may be liberated from IP protection rules comes almost a year after COVAX was formed and nearly six months after India and South Africa wrote a letter to their World Trade Organization peers requesting that IP laws be dropped to save lives. At least one hundred of the WTO’s 164 members agree with the proposal, but, as you might expect, the Western countries where these pharmaceutical corporations are based have blocked it. The WTO works by consensus.
According to the industry publication Pharmaceutical Technology, opponents of the request also include industry associations like the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, whose director-general said, “At a time when the focus should be on science and innovation, undoing the very system that supports it is dangerous and counterintuitive.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also opposes the request.
“Not only do they get a lot of money guaranteed for work on Covid vaccines,” Caplan told me of Big Pharma, “but they’ve also rebuilt their reputation in a way that no one could have predicted.”
And richer countries’ contracts have left little supply for COVAX to buy, while driving up prices to a degree that makes it difficult for COVAX to compete. “Most vaccine doses have already been purchased by high-income countries; whereas they represent just 16 percent of the global population, high-income countries have purchased 56 percent of vaccine doses,” a February 18 white paper by Kaiser Family Foundationnoted.
“The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian Director-General of WHO said in January. He called for governments with easy access to vaccines to inoculate their health care workers and older populations and share what they had left over with those in the highest risk countries so they might do the same. He also called on manufacturers to allocate vaccines equitably. The United States could take the lead, but the Biden administration would have to be willing to shatter some cherished myths about the magic of free-market economies—myths that have been very beneficial for a small group of big pharmaceutical companies.
Taken From: https://thebaffler.com/latest/who-owns-vaccines-neumann?