Trump’s attempt to buy a coronavirus vaccine shows why big pharma needs to change

By Diarmaid McDonald |The Guardian | March 16, 2020


The president’s shameless bid highlights the need for a drugs industry that prioritises the public interest over profit

Pandemics don’t destroy societies, but they do expose their weaknesses. As the historian of medicine Frank Snowden recently told the New Yorker: “Epidemic diseases are not random events that afflict societies capriciously and without warning … on the contrary, every society produces its own specific vulnerabilities.”

Coronavirus has exposed the effects of successive budgetary cuts on the NHS, leaving the health service under-resourced and ill-equipped to cope with a pandemic. And like other pandemics before it, coronavirus will disproportionately take the lives of those who are most vulnerable: the elderly, the homeless, prisoners, migrants denied access to healthcare, and those with existing health conditions such as cancer and HIV.

The virus has also shone a light on another fatal weakness in our health system: the profit-driven pharmaceutical innovation model that we rely upon to develop life-saving vaccines and medicines.

The news that Donald Trump has sought to buy up the exclusive rights to a promising Covid-19 vaccine from a German biotech firm has been greeted with anger. During a global crisis, when all of humanity is at risk, our sense of fairness – and our own self-interest – makes this shameless attempt to buy the right to life (with little regard for those it