First generation vaccines ‘only the beginning,’ says opinion columnist Robert Vairo

It’s a full-on race between vaccines and Covid virus variants. Every wave of this virus is worse than the previous. We are into the third with some provinces registering more infections in a day than ever before. Isn’t it mind boggling that we can not get a handle on this enemy?

Because vaccines have simply not been into the arms of the world fast enough, virus variants are given more time to develop and multiply. It’s happening in Canada where only 7% of the population has been vaccinated as of April 1, compared to nearly 60% in Israel, 25% in the UK, US 23%. Sadly, Canada ranks 43rd in global rankings of vaccinations per capita. Even by the end of the year, it’s estimated that only 10% will be vaccinated in developing countries. And therein lies a very serious problem, for the poor in those countries, and for the rest of the world.

Epidemiologists tell us as long as the virus has an opportunity to infect, wherever it may be, the more likely it is that mutations and variants will emerge, which could make first generation vaccines ineffective.

There is no sense of urgency in Canada, except for politics. Justin Trudeau choses instead to pick a fight with Ontario’s Doug Ford who needs more vaccines, now, as the PM defends his Procurement Minister. “Anita is doing an incredible job” in getting vaccines. Please! We have a Prime Minister who has never, ever accepted any responsibility for wrong doing, weakness, much less failure.

Pharmaceutical companies are enjoying an unprecedented bonanza of profits at the expense of an infected world. I mentioned in an earlier column that Canadian humanitarian Stephen Lewis urged pharmaceutical companies waive the intellectual property rights during the pandemic only, so that generic drugs can be more quickly and be vastly distributed to poor countries. Since then, more countries and organizations world wide have argued for patent suspension. It is not going to happen because the world needs leadership and we have none, at least no one who is willing to take on the powerful pharma industry.

Imagine if Covid were a country, a country at war with the rest of the world. A health policy advisor with an organization called the People Vaccine Alliance, asks the question, in war, “would governments leave the decision of arms and technology to the manufacturers to protect their own population?”. Absolutely not. Vaccines are our weapons and this IS a war, but strangely and shockingly, there is no sense of urgency to reign in and direct.

This is a world emergency. Our lives are at stake, and we can not allow pharmaceuticals to do as they please for the sake of profit, today and tomorrow. Did you watch Pfizer CFO Frank D’Amelio tell shareholders, there is “significant opportunity” to raise the price of vaccines. “We believe it’s becoming increasingly likely that an annual (if not bi-annual) revaccination is going to take place”. And he made it clear the $19.50 US per dose was pandemic pricing. “Once it’s at the endemic stage, we typically charge $175.00 a dose”.

Aw come on D’Amelio! This is a humanitarian matter. Have you no soul!? It’s a human emergency for God’s sake. The folks in poor countries need to be vaccinated otherwise we will all pay.

Pfizer and the others know exactly what they doing. And their stock prices reflect it. With governments as clients, many of whom pay in advance, it’s a beautiful world. Meanwhile, almost three million are dead so far, the global economy battered, and taxpayers deeply in debt. Shame.

By the way, AstraZeneca, mired in controversy not to mention public relations, has changed its name hoping we will forget the past. The British-Swedish pharma is now called Vaxzevria. It assures governments it’s only a name change, nothing more.

Have you noticed? The election campaign has begun in Canada. The Liberals know they only have to secure Quebec and the GTA to win. So of course, Mr. Trudeau was in Quebec, rubbing shoulders with a winner, Francois Legault, in announcing some money for an EV plant in St Jerome, another in Trois Rivieres for high-speed internet access. Legault needs to buddy up with Trudeau because Quebec needs bigger federal health transfers from Ottawa if it’s to balance its budget by 2025-26, as required by the Balanced Budget Act. It’s all politics folks.

Politics is even in the timing of the first shot of vaccines. Trudeau keeps proudly saying we will get our first vaccine by June, my, just in time for an election. In fact, we should all have received BOTH shots by then, and by the prescribed 21-day interval, not four months. But we’re not, because somebody failed us.

That’s What I’m Thinking.

Robert Vairo