Mar 112021
 

Public ownership and international solidarity can defeat COVID-19

The Communist Party of Canada demands that access to vaccines against COVID-19 be regarded as a human right and not a commodity. Vaccines must be made public, mass produced around the world and distributed for free. 

Imperialism has given rise to an immoral and deadly “vaccine nationalism” driven by the need for pharmaceutical monopolies to reap massive profits from the pandemic. Advanced capitalist countries like Canada have bought up huge quantities of the new vaccines well beyond the needs of the population, in the process denying access to countries with some of the highest infection and death rates in the world. 

Pfizer, Moderna, BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and the other corporations are not the saviours that they pretend to be. In fact, they and imperialist governments, including the Trudeau government, are holding the world back from mass production and distribution of the vaccine. 

Much of the cutting edge research and development that went into the vaccines, including the new mRNA vaccines, was done with public money and by public universities and institutions. However, it is Big Pharma that will walk away with billions in profits, paid for by more public money. In other words, vaccinations will be out of reach, or at least significantly delayed, for billions of people, in order to ensure the maximum amount of public wealth is transferred to corporate monopolies. 

While the World Health Organization calls for vaccine equity through COVAX, the World Trade Organization insists the intellectual property rights of the pharmaceutical industry not be waived. Last year, South Africa and India, supported by almost 100 other countries, called for a waiver of certain rules in the TRIPS Agreement – an international legal agreement that protects patents on essential medicines. In December, Canada intervened at the WTO to make clear its position against the waiving of these “rights” that are stopping governments around the world from mass producing the vaccines wherever they can and fostering international cooperation as opposed to competition. 

The Communist Party of Canada demands that the federal government immediately reverse their position on the waiving of intellectual property rights in regard to COVID-19 vaccines. 

The WTO’s efforts to guarantee big profits for the pharmaceutical companies from the vaccines that are so urgently needed by the world’s peoples, is a scorching expose of just how barbaric capitalism is, in its most virulent end-stage. 

The COVAX initiative is an agreement by participating countries that they will not take more doses than will vaccinate 20 percent of their population, until all countries receive that amount. The WHO aims to equitably distribute 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. This is an objective the Communist Party supports, and that medical professionals say is essential to eradicate the pandemic. Canada is a signer to the agreement, while perversely buying up huge supplies of vaccines at the same time. Furthermore, while has contributed to COVAX the Trudeau government has also decided to take vaccine doses from COVAX itself which violates the spirit if not the letter of the program. 

The example of Cuba stands in sharp contrast to the capitalist for-profit approach to vaccine development and distribution. Despite the sixty-year long illegal and inhuman US blockade, Cuba has become the only vaccine manufacturer in Latin America. The only state-owned entities producing the COVID-19 vaccines are those of Cuba and Russia. Cuba is currently producing 100 million doses, which will vaccinate the island nation’s 11 million residents beginning in March, with 70 million other doses going to Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, India and Cuba’s ALBA treaty partners: Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Cuba’s internationalism and heroic commitment to global health have been proven once again. 

It is clearly in the people of Canada’s own interests to cut out the pharmaceutical monopolies. Canada has bought six times the number of doses required to vaccinate the entire population. This politically motivated act to secure access at any cost, never mind the global consequences, has still not actually secured access, as the US has blocked exports and the EU may do the same until their own needs are met. Further, distribution of the vaccines that have arrived has been poorly planned, increasing vaccine skepticism. If variants proliferate unchecked, there will be many more deaths over a period of years, not months. 

This underlines the need for a domestic pharmaceutical industry in Canada that is publicly owned and democratically controlled, which can do the research and produce the drugs people across Canada need, when they need it, in the amounts required and at no cost to patients. This describes what existed before the Conservative Mulroney government sold off the publiclyowned Connaught Laboratories in the 1980s. If it had not been privatized, Canada would have a guaranteed supply of vaccines for the country. 

We need to be prepared for the next pandemic, and that must include a publicly owned pharmaceutical monopoly in Canada. This is the time to nationalize Big Pharma in Canada and put it under democratic control. This is what a pharmacare program would need to include in order to avoid price gauging and profiteering from pharmaceutical companies. 

The Communist Party of Canada has always fought for truly universal public healthcare. As Dr. Norman Bethune said almost a century ago, “Medicine, as we are practising it, is a luxury trade… Let us take the profit, the private economic profit, out of medicine and purify our profession of rapacious individualism… Let us say to the people not ‘How much have you got?’ but ‘How best can we serve you?’” Bethune’s struggle is at the forefront today. Now is the time to fight for ownership and international solidarity to defeat COVID-19.

Central Committee
Communist Party of Canada