Newsfirst columnist Robert Vairo’s ‘That’s What I’m Thinking’

A brilliant idea, but nobody is listening

He’s a humanitarian so he’s expected to come up with these kinds of ideas. But this latest one I find brilliant. And I am absolutely stunned that Canada’s major networks never followed up on the story. I am referring to Stephen Lewis (former NDP leader and UN ambassador to Canada) who has urged manufacturers of the COVID vaccines to suspend their patent, at least during this pandemic.

I only saw the Stephen Lewis interview once, and it was on CTV’s Evan Solomon Power Play, an excellent show by Evan that strikes at the events of the day.

There was Lewis, not in studio, but Zooming from his lap top with the regular ‘I’m at home’ back drop we see on a regular basis now. Lewis says patents should never have been given to the pharmaceuticals because in large part, the “discovery, manufacturing and distribution” of the vaccines has been funded by taxpayer dollars. Why suspend the pharmaceutical patents? So that vaccines can be produced generically at a much lower cost. The World Trade Organization has said nothing about it, but Lewis claims well over 100 low- and medium-income countries requested and were refused by the W.T.O. And the ‘no’ votes came from Europe, the US and includes Canada. Why? Is it really that much to ask? Apparently, it is. As one reader accurately wrote me “I’m afraid our system of government in the western world wheels too little power over the money hungry pharmaceutical companies”. Now to be fair, at least two pharmaceuticals claim to be selling the vaccines at their cost, but there is no way to confirm. According to Healthline, and Bloomberg, on average, governments are paying anywhere from $4 to $37 US per vaccine. For example, Pfizer and BioNTech are charging $19.50 US for each of its two jabs, Moderna $32 to $37, Novavax $16.

At these prices the U.K. based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) projects it will take poorer countries until as late as 2024 to get vaccinated. I’m not saying these manufacturers should not be making a profit, but they did receive billions in taxpayer dollars for their research according to Fierce Pharma. This is a world pandemic. It’s a world emergency. Every human being on this earth is affected. No matter. For pharmaceuticals, it’s business as usual. According to Bloomberg, Pfizer is on track to generate $15 billion in revenue this year just from the Covid 19 vaccines. It’s a business after all and so they have to please the shareholder. And they have. Look at these 52-week averages. NOVAVAX stock went from a low of $6.26 to a high of $297.00. Moderna from $17.91 to $185.98. BioNTech from $28.00 to $131.00. AstraZeneca $36.15 to $64.94. Pfizer $27.88 to $43.08. Stock prices move are based on market expectations. So manufacturers are in for the long haul with these Covid vaccines. Once vaccinated, we’re still not sure how long immunity will last. Months, years? Epidemiologists tell us it depends on the vaccine but the goal of any vaccine should be to provide lifetime immunity, which rarely happens. It doesn’t sound like this one will be forever like a one-time polio vaccine. Pharmaceuticals don’t generate revenue under those conditions. We’ll no doubt require booster shots for COVID-19, or new vaccines all together if they are not effective against a variant virus.

So, congratulations to Stephen Lewis. It’s a great idea to propose patent removal for the duration of the pandemic, but unfortunately, no one is listening. Sad.

I had to chuckle when I heard our Prime Minister make a lame attempt to save face after repeated bungling of our vaccine procurement. After putting his trust in the devious Chinese, and failing to score a deal, Canada will now finally have its own vaccine production, he proudly announced. Ontario said it had empty buildings ready now for the manufacture, but no, our Quebec elected PM insisted a new building will be constructed by his friends at SNC Lavalin, in Quebec. And Novavax will start producing maybe by the end of 2021, maybe. Isn’t that reassuring.

So, what do you think of the mandatory supervised hotel quarantines? Not too many Canadians are opposed. Over 80% love it. And with good reason. New Zealand enacted the same restrictions when COVID -19 broke out, one year ago. And while we are under curfews, quarantines and masking it all the way, New Zealanders are today packing stadiums, partying with no masks, like the old days. Being an island in the middle of nowhere helps.

Some day, we too will be “partying like the old days”.

That’s What I’m Thinking.

Robert Vairo