Analysis

Unethical Lies of Pharmaceutical Giants Stand Exposed

Famous American writer and humourist Mark Twain once said – “A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Sometimes this phrase is ascribed to other authors as well such as Jonathan Swift but here it is the message that it carries is more important else even Mark Twain was a penname of the author Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 –1910 CE). The phrase perfectly fits into role and conduct of the international fame pharmaceutical firms like Pfizer Inc - an American multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation, which has made billions of dollars through profiteering during the Covid-19 regime alone in the last three years through the development, marketing and sale of the vaccine at exorbitant cost, whose use and efficacy itself is now under cloud and questioned by several sane elements from the same developed countries responsible for its constant promotion. The phrase also equally applies on the perpetrator country largely responsible for inflicting a dreadful virus on the world, which is now reeling under own misdoings and misgivings unable to contain the surge of same virus back home despite its boastful vaccines claims and other measures. We shall see here how the US and other developed nations succumbed while India not only put a bold face to the coercive measures of same pharmaceuticals during its hours of corona crisis but also came out in flying colours.

Pharmaceuticals Lies and Profiteering Spree

This author recalls when Covid-19 pandemic began its spread and dance of death globally during early 2020, a few US pharmaceutical and biotechnology giants such as Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc forged ahead in the race of vaccine development with global tall claims while few other countries like Russia, China and India relied more on their own indigenous efforts to independently develop vaccines in collaboration with their indigenous bio-technology firms. With their professional and political clout, the aforesaid American companies received prompt clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and World Health Organization (WHO) for their RNA based Covid-19 vaccines which were ready for administration, marketing and use towards the latter months of the same year. For instance, the lead firm Pfizer Inc had named it Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine suitable for use among the people of sixteen years and older age.

 M/S Pfizer Inc claimed that this vaccine met the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality norms after necessary trials and was absolutely effective in preventing, diagnosing and treating the disease without any significant health risks. However, the cost of vaccine was kept rather very high almost unaffordable by the less developed and poor countries and so were the conditions of the marketing and sale to other countries. In fact, this Biopharma giant had come in news for many controversies since beginning which inter alia included profiteering during the pandemic period, seeking sovereign indemnity against any damage or loss owing to the use of vaccine from the foreign government, special treatment to their packaging and pharma officials by the receiving country, pledging of national assets by the governments, unethical lobbying, and so on. Even the Pfizer CEO was known to have tweeted about cent percent efficacy while it was later found that the company neither had any concrete data in support to that effect nor the vaccine was as effective as claimed. Much later even Pfizer conceded that there was not enough data in support of efficacy claim and that the pandemic situation demanded scientific innovation at war stage.

Similar lies have been planted by the China for the consumption of the world community about the origin of virus, its spread worldwide and their own measures taken since the outbreak of Covid-19 in that country. The official Chinese progressive tally of Covid-19 cases since its outbreak over three years back still put China at the 91th rank among the globally affected countries with the total corona cases 503,302, total deaths 5,272 and active cases 118,977 as on 20th January 2023 (Source: Worldometer) despite the fact that the entire country is currently reeling under the most severe coronavirus wave. China’s National Health Commission has now reported that 59,938 people died in hospitals as on 12th January 2023 across the country from 8 December 2022 to 12 January 2023 due to the corona epidemic. On the other hand, experts suggest that the reported toll may not have included Corona deaths occurred in the nursing homes and at homes, and according to a report of the Beijing University, about 64 percent Chinese population has already come under the grip of Corona. The notable point is that the Chinese government has constantly been on denial mode till recently; it’s sad that largely the innocent Chinese people have suffered the nemesis inflicted by their own autocratic regime.

Recently, on the fringes of the World Economic Forum meet at Davos, Switzerland, the Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla faced rough weather when he was chased by two journalists of the “Rebel News” on 18 January 2023, who asked a series of challenging questions concerning the efficacy of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, but the CEO constantly and evasively dodged all questions, a 6-minute video of which has now gone viral globally over the social media and internet. Among other things, the journalists asked questions like why the firm kept the knowledge secret that its vaccine did not stop viral transmission and, on the contrary, the firm initially claimed that the vaccine was 100 percent effective, then they said 90 percent, followed by claims of 80-70 percent, and so on. Yet another uncomfortable question shot by the journalist was whether it was now for the Pfizer to repent to the world and make refunds to the countries having purchased vaccines in the past with no viable results. Needless to mention such queries and questions are very valid in the light of fact that nearly one-third to fifty percent population of the US and many European Union countries have already been infected with significant loss of human lives even after continuous use of the vaccines.

Even a pointed question was asked by one journalist for the Pfizer CEO’s response as to why the manufacturer hid the fact that its vaccine did not stop transmission of the virus. But, quite obviously, the CEO did not reply to this query as well other than simply saying “Thank you very much” and “Have a nice day” while the journalist continued asking, “Are you proud of it? You made millions of dollars on the backs of people’s lives. How does it feel to walk the streets as a millionaire? Are you worried about myocarditis? What do you have to say about young men dropping dead.”  The other journalist even accused  CEO Bourla of making millions on the backs of people's entire livelihoods, "Is it time to apologize to the world, sir? To give refunds to the countries that borrowed their money into a vaccine that doesn’t work. An ineffective vaccine! Are you not ashamed of what you’ve done in the last couple of years?" Like the first one, the second journalist too received no response from the Pfizer CEO. 

Although many countries did not reveal but it is no more a secret that, among other things, the Pfizer Inc had sought an indemnity clause to protect it from legal lawsuits if the vaccine had any unwanted effects or it didn’t work. According to a detailed report of CNBC in March 2022 on two US vaccine manufacturers, both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved by FDA in December 2020 and apart from good response in sales received in that year itself (2020) with estimated revenue of US $154 million, Pfizer had sold $36.7 billion (45%) of its Covid vaccine worldwide in 2021 out of its total revenue of $81.2 billion. Further, according to estimates based on the contractual obligations, the forecast sale for 2023 was about $32 billion with actual amount likely to increase further. Besides, Pfizer was also aggressively projecting a Covid treatment pill Paxlovid with a projected sale of $22 billion in 2023. Apart from irregular and unethical practices listed earlier, Pfizer has been also accused of hindering vaccine equity and lobbying against the temporary lift of intellectual property rights thereby allowing other manufacturers to produce it during crisis. The firm delivered only 39% of its contractually agreed doses to the COVAX programme in 2021, representing 1.5 percent of all vaccines produced by Pfizer; the most of their sales being targeted to high-income countries of the US and European Union.

Bullying Efforts Failed with India

Ironically, while most other countries in the world were unitedly fighting since 2020 and, in fact, this war is still on to subdue and defeat the deadly virus with minimum loss of life and other collateral damages, but for India it has been altogether an entirely different battle. The opposition led by the legendary Congress Party, a section of left-leaning media, and self-proclaimed liberal and intellectuals as well as a section of population following them have used the pandemic an opportunity to embarrass and topple the central government by any means, if feasible. For this, they have constantly resorted to propaganda, criticism and hurdles not only during unrelated developments such as the Sino-Indian border clashes in Galwan and other places, terror incidents caused by Pakistan sponsored terrorists and commensurate retaliatory action by the Indian security forces, Citizen (Amendment) Act to facilitate rehabilitation of the persecuted families taken refuge from the neighbouring Islamic countries, agriculture reform laws, etc., but also all Covid-19 related developments such as violations of the Covid protocol by the Tablighi Jamaat and their followers across the country, misinformation campaign among the Muslim community about the vaccination & treatment, overestimation and spread of misinformation about the number of Covid patients and dead, indigenous efforts of developing vaccines followed by the massive vaccination programme, and so on.

Thus in India’s case it has not been just a fight against the coronavirus during the pandemic but the government and entire executive machinery had to face and counter constant slur and slander of malicious propaganda, criticism and hurdles created by the aforesaid class in performance of their national duty. The misconduct and health hazard created by the members of the Jamaat posed a major challenge in the country in the initial months for the administration, police and health workers while the position was further aggravated by the irresponsible opposition politicians, pseudo-intellectuals and liberals and biased media, who defended the misdemeanour of the Jamaat members with allegations that the government was out to create Islamophobia and communal divide in the country. Similarly, due to similar propaganda and misinformation, a large population of the Muslim community continued to ignore Covid protocol at public places such as wearing masks or showing interest in the vaccination programme. The vested interests had spread misinformation to make many of them to believe that the vaccination is aimed by the Bhartiya Janta Party government to make them infertile or even with a conspiracy to kill them.

On the Covid vaccines front, the very set of vested interests constantly raised questions and doubts about the capability of the Indian scientists and government to develop indigenous vaccines as also the efficacy of such vaccines in providing protection against the Covid-19 disease. When the vaccines namely Covishield (in collaboration with Oxford-AstraGeneca of UK) and Covaxin (indigenous by Bharat Biotech and ICMR) were approved for the emergency use, many questions were raised about inadequate trial and undue hurry for vaccination risking the life of citizens. In fact, a famous politician and erstwhile chief minister of a state is on record of linking the vaccine with the ruling political party in his rhetoric of inciting people for the opinion building against the vaccine. He even refused to use the vaccine asking his cadre to boycott it, although it is a different tale that most of these people were rather prompt to get early vaccinated. Later, the Indian vaccination programme turned out to be a success story in as much as the world’s most ambitious and effective Covid vaccination drive. During this entire saga, there was yet another section of Indian opposition politicians and liberals/intellectuals who, while being constantly skeptic about the vaccines in use i.e. Covishield and Covaxin, were constantly putting pressure on the government through a bitter criticism in not approving import of Pfizer vaccine.

Just to illustrate how politicians and liberals were after the Indian government to pressurize them through public statements and media utterances to take decision for the import of the US based Covid vaccines, the following few tweets would be suffice:

On one occasion, the Congress veteran and heavyweight politician P. Chidambaram tweeted on 27 December 2021 - "People are surprised that only three vaccines have been made available in India: Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik. Of the three, you can write off Sputnik because only a small quantity was imported in the initial days."

He later also added that the country was left with only 2 vaccines thanks to the protectionist policy of the Modi Government Pfizer, Moderna, and other WHO-approved vaccines are kept out of India on one pretext or other which is why we didn’t have enough vaccines to administer two doses to the 94 crore adult population.

This was not just the opposition politicians alone, but a number of other politicians, left-leaning journalists and liberals/intellectuals too have expressed similar opinion favouring Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. On one occasion, Chetan Bhagat, a famous Indian author and a liberal face tweeted on 28 April 2021as under:

The Pfizer vaccine, one of the best ones, used in most developed countries, applied for permission in India in Dec-2020. India instead asked them to do more studies here, Pfizer withdraw its application in Feb-21. Imagine lives saved if we allowed the vaccine from December itself.

Notwithstanding provocation and criticism from various external and internal sources, the Government of India avoided controversies to a large extent by avoiding reply of such most often ignorant or ill-informed and even purported public statements and utterances. However, recently Union Minister of State for Electronics and Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar has spilled beans when he publicly revealed that the global pharmaceutical firm and heavyweight Pfizer had indeed tried to bully the Indian Government into accepting an indemnity clause for supplying its mRNA Covid vaccine. He also added that the senior leaders in opposition, particularly Rahul Gandhi, P. Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh, continued to promote the case for providing foreign vaccination in India during the coronavirus pandemic rather than choosing the home-bred vaccines.

The statement makes sense because an application from the pharma giant was indeed considered and stalemate continued for a considerable time in 2021. As against the indigenous Covishield and Covaxin, considering the international market price of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, its procurement would have been rather cost prohibitive but more important than this, the irresponsible and unpalatable condition of seeking sovereign indemnity from the government about any legal responsibility and accountability was something that a capable, self-respecting and responsible government would not accept. It is of common knowledge that other than the US Pharmaceutical firms, only Russia, India and China could prove their potential in time to produce their own indigenous vaccines. Due to the very nature of a democratic government and huge target population, only India could have been targeted by the giant pharmaceutical firms like Pfizer and it indeed lobbied and did so but its unsavoury attempts were frustrated by the powerful and strongly India-centric Modi Government.

Needless to mention, India has recently completed two years of its largely indigenous and successful vaccination drive. As on 20 January 2023, over 2,202.86 million vaccine dozes have been administered so far to the population of various ages. By all means, this could be stated as the world’s largest and most successful vaccination drive sans the presence or participation of the US Pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and Moderna. The most ironical part of it is that the World Health Organization had been so prompt in clearing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for its emergency use as well as Chinese vaccines namely Sinovac and Sinopharm while they kept pending similar clearance to Indian Covaxin for months together on various pretexts. However, when we take a glance on the users’ efficacy of these vaccines, we find the US and European countries mostly using Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are still reporting substantial numbers of daily new patients and deaths, China is currently reeling under a massive corona wave with death in large numbers putting a serious question mark on the efficacy of Chinese vaccines (Even top Chinese epidemiologist have accepted this) while India is comfortable and smiling with less than 150 cases daily reported nationwide with only occasional deaths, if any.

Postscript

Mark Twain’s aforesaid saying is truly vindicated in the context of the current global corona pandemic. The tall claims made by the lead US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and some other manufacturers about their costly vaccines including the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm have been fully exposed with the passage of time. During the midst of corona crisis, India indeed faced a major challenge of securing enough vaccines for its population. The government sought cooperation from abroad but faced stiff resistance and unacceptable conditions from the firms like Pfizer and Moderna, who were more interested and oriented towards profiteering during crisis. In such conditions, committed and diligent efforts of the Indian scientists and bio-technology firms fully endorsed by resolve of the government to make such efforts rather than bowing under pressure of foreign firms proved to be successful and remunerating in terms of  low cost and more effective indigenous vaccines. In many ghoul or ghost fantasy movies and stories of the West, we often see or read about the blood-thirsty vampires who dwell upon the human blood for own survival but here in the real world we are to live and deal with many arth-pishachas (money-ghouls) ready to capitalize and fleece upon even basic human living means.

31-Dec-1969

More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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