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In an opinion piece published in The Hill, distinguished professor of health policy and management Dr. Jonathan Fielding shares his perspective about what can be done to ensure coronavirus vaccines are accessible for all.
Researchers worldwide are scrambling to develop coronavirus vaccines. More than 140 candidates are being advanced with all possible speed by research teams from small academic labs and big drug companies alike. While the Trump administration is pushing developers to meet faster timelines, providing supports in the form of favorable legislative measures and more than $7 billion in taxpayer funding so far, it hasn’t addressed an equally urgent question: What will be done to ensure vaccines are accessible for those who need them most? It is amazing that the answer is not yet determined, considering the gravity of the situation.
With all these candidates being advanced, the likelihood of more than one safe and effective vaccine being developed could lead to some competition that would benefit pricing. But the pattern in the past has been that a competitor exits the market once a successful vaccine has been established. That leaves one company with a patent and the freedom to set price and secure indemnification from injuries resulting from vaccines. This gives vaccine marketers advantages that no other type of American company has and which raise complex issues.
These advantages are manifested in several different ways. Developers are helped by the strongest lobby in American politics. Big pharma, which spent $295 million on lobbying in 2019 — twice as much as the next biggest spender, exerts more influence and has more freedom over setting prices than any other industry.