Politics and Profit in the Cure for Pandemics

Author: Emily Zaza

There’s a common concern surrounding the global citizens of how a sickness can be cured. It is not enough, however, to explain how a sickness finds its vaccines by only using a bio-chemical approach. In the means to find a cure, hurdles including the political priorities and market strategy are present.

In retrospect, the world has suffered from the deathly pandemics, sickness that spreads globally,[1] such as Ebola, SARS, and MERS prior to the emergence of COVID-19. But status quo has not yet seen a major victory in one true vaccine that could perfectly cure each pandemic. The question is, why is it so hard to find a vaccination for a pandemic

The leading figure in a research to develop vaccines often lies in the hands of pharmaceutical companies. The problem is they tend to have their main priorities in the end goal of profit and financial recompensates.[2] This can be shown, for example, in 1976 during the outbreak of swine flu in the United States, when four drug firms; Merck’s Sharp & Dohme, Merrell, Wyeth, and Parke-Davis refused to sell the government their manufactured doses of vaccination until they were reassured they would get full liability and profit.[3]

Gerald Posner in his book Pharma : Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America, argues that one of the reasons pharmaceutical industries show little interest for the development of such outbreaks, is because the recipients were more likely be in Africa and Asia, that they think the financial returns were too small to justify any huge investment that would cost much money for the research.[4] The next barriers that we find in the discovery of pandemics’ vaccines is due to the nature of an outbreak itself. Jason Schwartz, an assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health, argues that pharmaceutical companies are prone to suspend the research for such pandemics once the phase of an outbreak ends.[5] COVID-19 should have been the test case for this because the virus has similarities with the previous pandemics, such as 2003-SARS and 2012-MERS, three of them have similar respiratory illnesses including fever and cough.[6] In fact, should pharmaceutical companies continue with their researches, they would have their basic research completed and that could be implemented in COVID-19 thus lessening the time needed to produce such vaccines for future inevitable viruses.

It would be unfair to say the only concern to find a vaccine is a mere economic thought because political agenda also plays a role. On February 2020, President Trump in his new 2021 fiscal budgeting plan appears to have reduced the overall funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP)  and National Institutes of Health (NIH) which translates into difficulties to fund a research for pandemics preparedness.[7] Political circumstances change per time being and per leaders andot every politician is fond of health issue. The next thing we usually see is big pharmaceutical companies will spend more money on the political lobbying, for approval on clinical tests for example, such difficulties is also one of the obstacles if the financial recompensate is not secured.[8]

However, everything always comes with a counterbalance. The world seems to move in a faster lane than it did during previous outbreaks. Firste see China’s fast response in identifying a particular genome of coronavirus that might help finding the vaccine.[9] Next we witness the birth of Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) in 2017, which takes donations from public and private entities, including Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation whose focus is funding the development of World Health Organization’s (WHO) agenda to find cure for pathogens, including MERS and Ebola. It is known for funding Inovio Pharmaceuticals to begin testing for COVID-19 a few days ago.[10] Third, when the whole Wall Street market stock has purging due to this outbreak, pharmaceutical company Gillead has its sales rating move higher after it publishes a statement that Gilead is working on a COVID-19 treatment and would publish the report in next month, this might incentivize them for more research.[11] And last but not least, Trump’s $1 billion emergency fund as a response to coronavirus might also help such progress. [12]

The aforementioned initial hurdles are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, but this does not mean any beneficial progress would not appear in he midst of an epidemic crisis.


[1] “What Is a Pandemic?” LiveScience. Purch. Accessed March 19, 2020. https://www.livescience.com/pandemic.html.

[2] Rottingen JA, Gouglas D, Feinberg M, Plotkin S, Raghavan KV, Witty A, Draghia-Akli R, Stoffels P, Piot P. New vaccines against epidemic infectious diseases. N Engl J Med 2017; 376:610-13; PMID:28099066; http://dx.doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp1613577

[3] Posner, Gerald. “Big Pharma May Pose an Obstacle to Vaccine Development.” The New York Times. The New York Times, March 2, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/02/opinion/contributors/pharma-vaccines.html.

[4] Posner, Gerald L. Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America. New York: Avid Reader Press, 2020.

[5] Hamblin, James. “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, March 10, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/02/covid-vaccine/607000/.

[6] “COVID-19, MERS & SARS.” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed March 19, 2020. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/covid-19.

[7] “What’s in President Trump’s Fiscal 2021 Budget?” The New York Times. The New York Times, February 10, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/10/business/economy/trump-budget-explained-facts.html.

[8] Schubert, Louis, Thomas R. Dye, and L. Harmon Zeigler. The Irony of Democracy: an Uncommon Introduction to American Politics. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2016. Pg 172-173

[9] Asian Scientist Newsroom, and Wildtype Media Group. “Chinese Scientists Sequence Genome Of COVID-19.” Asian Scientist Magazine | Science, technology and medical news updates from Asia, February 28, 2020. https://www.asianscientist.com/2020/02/topnews/china-coronavirus-covid-19-study/.

[10] Tirumalaraju, Divya. “Covid-19 Vaccine: Inovio Secures Funds for Delivery Device.” Pharmaceutical Technology, March 13, 2020. https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/news/inovio-covid-19-vaccine-delivery-device/.

[11] Daily, Investor’s Business. “Gilead Sciences Rating Rises Amid Coronavirus Study.” Investor’s Business Daily, March 12, 2020. https://www.investors.com/news/technology/stocks-to-watch-gilead-sciences-sees-relative-strength-rating-rise-to-92/.

[12] Hamblin, James. “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, March 10, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/02/covid-vaccine/607000/.

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