It is not an overstatement to say this pandemic is testing the population of the world’s level of trust in all kinds of people, institutions, and other sectors of our global society. From politicians to members of the clergy and churches, for example, there seems to be a keen public eye watching every move of those from whom some leadership and guidance is expected in this moment of crisis.
It is amid this scenario of intense scrutiny that we also find that there are questions being asked about the giant global pharmaceutical industry producing and distributing Covid-19 related drugs to many countries in the world.
Whilst many feel very comfortable with making use of various types of vaccines and other medications produced by pharmaceutical companies, there seems to be a dose of scepticism in the minds of some when it comes to the novel Covid-19 related vaccines, which were rushed into the market as an attempt to help control the pandemic.
Even though it is possibly true that, in Australia, for example, some of the hesitancy could be coming simply from the fact that all vaccines still find themselves in a clinical trial phase, having, at this stage, been only provisionally approved by the TGA, who also says that “the timeframe for the evaluation of each vaccine will ultimately depend on when the complete data package is provided by sponsors. We have not yet received a full data package from any company”, it is also true that, for others, the root of hesitancy is much deeper.
The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer
We are currently witnessing many important historical moments taking place during this lasting pandemic, among which is what some have called ‘the greatest wealth transfer in history’. In the United States alone, for example, by September last year, the top 1% of Americans had already taken $50 trillion from the bottom 90%.
When it comes to the pharmaceutical industry, both Pfizer and Moderna, to name a couple, are expected to reach a combined profit of around $45 billion dollars by the end of 2021, in what has become known as the gold rush of the industry.
Agreeing with the words of Saint Paul who said that “the love of money is the root of all evil”, many find themselves rather intrigued by the fact that some of the “saviours” of the world are becoming incredibly wealthy in the process of lending humanity a helping hand.
A past and a present that doesn’t inspire great levels of trust
In that scenario, some might ask the question “what is wrong with getting rich while doing good to others?”, which is a fair question to ask. The problem is that the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t really have a solid track record of seeking first and foremost the good of those using their products.
The company Pfizer, for example, who twelve years ago had to pay, what at the time was, the largest criminal fine in US history for misbranding the painkiller Bextra, which was withdrawn from the market in 2004, has also been featuring in a series of investigative journalistic videos from the Project Veritas, exposing some troubling details surrounding their Covid vaccines.
Using undercover journalists to gather sensitive information from people who work at Pfizer and even other pharmaceutical companies, as well as employees who are voluntarily coming forward to speak about what happens behind closed office doors, Project Veritas has managed to obtain a wealth of information that doesn’t put those companies in a good light.
Among many other pieces of information acquired, there are emails from a senior director from Pfizer encouraging employees to not disclose information about the use of foetal cells in the development of the vaccines, as well as a Pfizer senior associate scientist openly saying he feels like he works for an evil corporation that runs on Covid money. It is information like this that has been causing many to ask the question ‘what else is being hidden from the public in all of this?’
Politics, the pharmaceutical industry, and lobby groups: a love story
It is not as if Pfizer is alone leaving a trail of greed behind its dealings in the pharmaceutical world. Other companies like Merk and Marathon Pharmaceuticals, for example, through the support from the US government and technical dealings with the FDA, have achieved huge profit margins by benefiting from actions that can be interpreted as not being in the best interest of the people in the US.
That could only happen because, as Caroline Chen and others pointed out, “pharma companies underwrite three-fourths of the FDA’s budget for scientific reviews, [and] the agency is increasingly fast-tracking expensive drugs with significant side effects and unproven health benefits.”
In addition to that, as Vinay Prasad, a haematologist-oncologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, mentions, there is a dangerous combination of weak federal restrictions with the possibility of future employment, which often produces a bias in how FDA staffers conduct drug reviews. His own words are quite sobering:
“When your No. 1, major employer after you leave your job is sitting across the table from you, you’re not going to be a hard-ass when you regulate. That’s just human nature.”
With that said, this suspicious relationship between pharmaceutical companies, lobby groups, governments, and regulatory bodies, is not exclusive to the US. Australia, for instance, has had some select people who, throughout the years, reported concerns in that area.
Conflict of interest can also be seen in the rollout of the Covid vaccines, for example, but, even earlier than that, the Guardian had already flagged some issues surrounding the donation of millions of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry to both major Australian political parties.
According to the Guardian, the level of those donations, which show a significant increase around the time of the 2013 federal election, has created a level of influence that was linked by former health department secretary, Stephen Duckett, to Australia’s high medicine’s prices and differentiated approval processes for new drugs.
In her interview with the Guardian, Barbara Mintzes, an expert in pharmaceutical policy from the University of Sydney, has also shared some similar concerns about, what can be called, ‘a weakening evidence standards for new medicines’:
“We’ve seen a shift internationally to the lowering of standards, especially for effectiveness, evidence, and bringing in pathways to get a new drug to market, and very limited standards of evidence, especially for some of the newer cancer drugs and rare disease drugs that are coming in.”
The above reality is a warning that even John LaMattina, who was the president of Pfizer Global Research and Development sector in 2007, shared in February 2017.
When you add to the already precarious situation described above a global pandemic that seems to have opened the floodgates of society for the entrance of many new pharmaceutical products in a record time for which uncertain, if any, compensation is being offered in Australia and even in the US, you create an unusual setting where the level of trust is reduced significantly.
The hesitant and the writing on the wall
Unfortunately, things look very grim as the population of Australia and, indeed, the population of the world, in a completely unique landscape featuring a new virus and new vaccines, are being coerced to entrust their bodies into the hands of an industry that has done much to damage the trust of many.
When coercion and tyranny are some of the tools being used in the process, the impression many people have is that the pharmaceutical industry is not really in it to help people but to get filthy rich, primarily, treating people’s welfare as a secondary trivial matter.
Whilst it is true that most of the population of the world don’t seem too concerned at this staged, it is also true that there are many who, for different reasons, cannot exercise that level of trust in the partnership between politics and big pharma.
It is not that those people don’t trust in the science behind the vaccines, necessarily, but that they find it hard to trust on those who, so many times, have shown concerning signs that their main goal is to fill the pockets of shareholders rather than promoting the well-being of the people of the world.
Wise were, indeed, the words of Saint Paul that preceded his earlier quote in this article: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction”.
May those words never become a prophetic warning which will stain our generation and many other generations to come.