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'Profiteering': Setback to health sector with big pharmas' excessive control over vaccines

By Bharat Dogra* 

A very important aspect of human progress relates to ability to learn from previous mistakes and take timely corrective actions. This is particularly true in the context of the recent pandemic when costly mistakes were made. Can we learn from these adequately and in time to avoid future mistakes?
Probably the first such corrective step relates to the overreach on vaccines, neglecting the solid available evidence relating to harmful side-effects and risks. From the very beginning of the vaccination efforts, several highly placed scientists and doctors in various countries had started warning against undue and unprecedented hurry in rolling out COVID vaccines without due care for safety aspects. 
However, this was mostly ignored by big media. It is therefore a relief to know that belatedly some big newspapers have also started giving some coverage to this very serious issue.
In this context attention may be drawn to a report, which said, “Eminent British Indian Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, who has been leading international calls for the suspension of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, said that Oxford-AstraZeneca’s jab, administered in India as Covishield, was even 'worse' in terms of cardiovascular effects, heart attacks and strokes. Dr Malhotra, who has demanded a full safety review into the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, added, Covishield should never have been rolled out in the country in the first place.”
Most worrying was the vaccination of children started against the advice of some top experts when the risks to children from the disease were very small and the risks of side-effects were very high.
To prevent immense unintended harm being caused further, most of all to children, the health authorities should immediately take decisions which take into full account the evidence at world level regarding the various serious harmful side-effects, above all in the context of children. Nothing is more important than the health of children and this should be protected. 
Also the hazards and high risks of keeping vaccines in the profit oriented private sector big companies should be realized by now, and the government should think in terms of having vaccines only in public sector and taking decisions on vaccines which are entirely based on science and not at all on maximization of profits for someone.
It is good to see that at least some of the big newspapers have also started giving some belated attention to neglected but very important aspects of serious bio-safety risks. This is welcome and in fact overdue. This should lead to more rational, well-informed and balanced discussion on this important issue, instead of the earlier tendency to underplay even serious risks and hazards.
Most of the recent increase in concern regarding this issue is attributed to the increasing possibility that COVID-19 origin is related to the leak of a genetically engineered corona-virus from a virology lab in Wuhan (China), a virus which was in all probability engineered to be more harmful and infectious to human beings. 
This work was part of a five year project of gains-of-function research funded by the USA. Such research is inherently a risky venture, as admitted in this case by the key researcher, but is justified on the ground that this will help in facing potential future pandemics and developing vaccines for them. This view of the benefits of such research has been widely questioned.
The fact that this was research in a Chinese lab but funded by the USA led to a curious situation in which some top scientists of both the countries were united in their efforts to undermine the lab-leak theory of COVID-19 origin. They were joined by other senior virologists who too have high funded gains of function research or similar research projects going on in their labs. However, due to a number of factors there has been renewed interest in lab-leak theory.
Regardless of whether this is accepted as the most likely cause of COVID-19 origin or not, the fact that this was a very high risk research cannot be denied at all. The worrying fact is that many such high risk projects of this kind are continuing unabated in several parts of world. Although several of these are called ‘gains of function’ research, other scientists prefer to call some of this research as research relating to novel potential pandemic pathogens or PPPs.
Some people discuss this subject mainly in terms of bio-safety levels (there are four levels of increasing order from level I to level IV). However a more basic issue is to find out what kind of research is inherently more risky without providing any higher benefit. Once such research areas and projects are identified, these should be given up.
While the world may not reach common agreement on COVID-19 origin anytime soon, the chances of reaching an agreement on giving up such high-risk projects may be higher and should be pursued with the aim of avoiding any potential disasters. 
An additional reason for such caution relates to the possibility of non-state actors or terrorists trying to use the knowledge emanating from such research in their own dangerous ways, a possibility to which some senior scientists have also referred in their writings in recent times.
Models were created by military-civilian-big pharma nexus on how pandemic breakout can be used to impose authoritarian control
In this context it is very useful and informative to look at a listing made of avoidable types of research and experimentation in a report titled Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism. This report has been prepared by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, USA. The following seven types of research is listed here as high-risk research which is better to avoid...
  • demonstrating ways of making vaccines ineffective,
  • conferring resistance to antibiotics and anti-viral agents,
  • enhancing a pathogen’s virulence or making a non-virulent microbe virulent,
  • increasing the transmissibility of a pathogen,
  • altering the host range of a pathogen,
  • enabling a pathogen’s ability to evade diagnostic or detection modalities,
  • enabling the weaponisation of a biological agent or toxin.
Of course in practice these various possibilities may be mixed in a single project. In particular the implications of these various types of research for biological weapons research is quite important. 
As is widely understood, although biological warfare and biological weapons are banned, some activity relating to these continues particularly at the level of the bigger powers. Research for this is required by them. 
As some research for defense from such weapons is permitted, this takes place in specifically military research establishments but in addition, for this to progress well, its linkages with several other research activities is needed or desired and therefore a lot of outwardly civilian research is actually promoted for its biological warfare linkages as well.
Anyway, important narrow advantages relating to commercial, economic, career and military aspects are associated and this is the reason why high-risk research has been promoted on a wide scale despite the dangers it creates for humanity and various other forms of life.
Clearly, a time has come now to give the long-overdue priority to safety concerns in this context. At a time when public concerns on this issue are high, now is just the right time to push for safety above all.
To help in preparing for a proper pandemic response in future which can avoid past mistakes, it is important to create wider awareness of some important recent, world-level trends.
  1. Giant multinational pharmaceutical companies (big pharma) have been increasing their hold over the health sector, developing close links with officials, scientists, national and international regulating agencies, funding and supporting them in various ways. Some of the richest billionaires and their ventures, claiming to be philanthropies, work in close cooperation with them. They have emerged as biggest funders of international health organizations which were established to protect and guide public interest, paying them more than national government do.
  2. Several products of big pharma have proved to be serious health hazards for which they have paid penalties or faced legal action.
  3. Several of these multinational companies, working with billionaires claiming to be philanthropists, now give more importance not just to short-term profits but also to gaining more control over the health sector of various countries, as they realize that it is this control which is the key to longer-term super profits.
  4. Vaccines have always been recognized as an important aspect of public health, and rightly so, but this recognition suffered when big pharma gained excessive control on vaccines and turned this into a huge source of profits and control. From time to time highly exaggerated need and benefits of their patented, branded vaccines were claimed in big publicity blitz, while ignoring risks. These unethical efforts were often exposed by public spirited scientists and activists for their falsehoods. There were several evidence-based, data-based reports of serious harm suffered by people including children as a result of profit-oriented tendency to spread quickly and excessively such hazardous, inadequately tested products without exercising due caution.
  5. After biological warfare research was banned, some loopholes were left to allow very similar research to continue in the name of civilian research. Hence a lot of biological warfare research did not end but merely shifted to civilian labs instead of being discontinued. The civilian aim often mentioned to justify this was the development of vaccines for new pandemics. Some of this research was continued in the name of gains of function research.
  6. Those who were the coordinators of this civilian-military nexus became the most powerful technocrats, and in a country like the USA, one such technocrat, who drew a higher salary than the President of this country, apart from earnings from other sources, including vaccine patents, became one of the biggest promoters of big pharma while controlling research funds worth several billion dollars which he used to promote big business agenda.
  7. With military-civilian nexus, civilian bio research became extremely risky and when several potentially very high-risk leaks of virus took place from high-security bio labs, a moratorium for some time had to be announced for gain-of-function and related research in the USA. During this short time instead of stopping all such research some of this including that involving corona viruses was merely shifted to labs abroad by giving research grants, and one such highly controversial and high risk project of corona viruses was shifted to a high-security bio lab in Wuhan, China( where subsequently the COVID-19 pandemic started, as widely believed).
  8. Several simulations were held and models were created by agencies known for military-civilian-big pharma nexus on how a pandemic breakout can be used to impose authoritarian controls, curb democratic rights and increase the power and profits of big pharma.
  9. Earlier false or exaggerated pandemic scares were created , as in the case of swine-flu in 2009-10, which led to wastage of millions of dollars and disorientation of health systems. These were subsequently exposed and massive supplies of already ordered vaccines had to be disposed off unused.
  10. Several civilian projects of foreign collaboration have been exposed (for example by the Public Accounts Committee of the Indian Parliament) for their biological warfare implications, while several allegations worldwide of illegal use of biological warfare agents have been made.
---
*Writer, journalist, author; honorary convener, Save the Earth Now Campaign. His recent books include ‘Planet in Peril', ‘Protecting Earth for Children' and ‘A Day in 2071’

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