Drug companies are lobbying to protect their right to profit from any future Covid-19 vaccine.
The clearest way out of the current pandemic—though it may a year or more away—is a vaccine, mass produced and made freely available to all.
This being America, of course, not everyone is on board for making something free. In the lead-up to the first coronavirus relief bill, pharmaceutical companies lobbied against any language constraining their right to profit. When Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) suggested that private corporations not be granted the exclusive right to set the price of any future vaccine, Republicans shot it down.
While the high stakes make this especially galling, it’s pretty much par for the course for the pharmaceutical industry. The U.S. government spends billions on research funding, but Americans pay more for most prescription drugs than almost any other country. And despite profit margins most other industries would kill for, Big Pharma hasn’t let up on the gas pedal. They pour millions into lobbying and elections to protect their interests, and everywhere you look, the fox is guarding the henhouse: To pick just one example, President Trump’s secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, is a former drug company lobbyist.
So we end up with a topsy-turvy world in which we are prescribed more than we need—unnecessary antibiotics, for instance, or addictive opioids—but we can’t afford the drugs that might actually help us; where public money subsidizes private companies’ patents, allowing them to profit exclusively off their drugs; and a world-altering virus thrusts millions into economic precarity but they might still have to pay big for a vaccine.
These 10 statistics show where Big Pharma's priorities actually lie—and, spoiler alert, they're not with your health.
- 46 House Democrats signed a letter to lower the cost of future Covid-19 vaccines by changing intellectual property rights
- 0 such provisions made the final Covid-19 relief bill
- $295,000,000 was spent on lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry in 2019, more than any other industry
- 100% of new FDA-approved drugs from 2010 to 2016 involved government-funded research
- $7,000,000,000 would have been added to the 2018 tax bill of four large drug companies, except for the Trump tax cuts
- 821% more TV ads for drugs aired from 1997 to 2016
- $535,000,000,000 was spent by Americans on prescription drugs in 2018, 50% more than in 2010
- 33.5% of Americans skipped filling at least one prescription between November 2017 and October 2018, because of the cost
- 232,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2018, a leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S.
- $35,000,000,000 came in for Purdue Pharma between 1995 and 2017 from peddling OxyContin
Dayton Martindale is former associate editor of In These Times, and a founding member of Symbiosis. His writing has appeared in In These Times, Earth Island Journal and The Next System Project, Boston Review and Harbinger. He tweets at @DaytonRMartind.