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People Before Profits: We Must Have More Vaccine Doses Now

The news is full of governors and mayors complaining that they don’t have enough doses of the Covid-19 vaccines to implement their distribution plans. That’s not because of a lack of manufacturing capacity. It’s all about capitalism’s priorities.

Scott Cooper

January 26, 2021
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The news is full of governors and mayors complaining that they don’t have enough doses of the Covid-19 vaccines to implement their distribution plans. That’s not because of a lack of manufacturing capacity. It’s all about capitalism’s priorities.

You may have seen New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on television this morning explaining his administration’s objective of delivering a half-million vaccines every week at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, and elsewhere — around the clock, if necessary — but that the lack of doses has put the plan on hold.

You may have heard reports about Florida’s big network of distribution locations, up and running but for having doses to shoot into people’s arms.

In Southwest Virginia, health departments have been forced to change plans because of the shortages. “They’ll now focus on seniors age 65 and up and delay vaccinations for many essential workers,” reports WCYB News 5. As one doctor put it, “Without a significant change in the supply of vaccines, we’re looking at two to three months” before folks expecting vaccines now will get the shots.

The story is the same across the United States. It isn’t a manufacturing problem, per se; both Pfizer and Moderna are working to capacity to produce doses of their vaccines. Rather, it’s a problem of capitalism.

On his second day in office, President Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to use the 1950 Defense Production Act (DPA) to get companies to increase the supply of testing kits, masks, and “vaccine materials.” In a briefing, he said it was “decisive action to change the course of this pandemic and get Covid-19 under control.”

Frontline healthcare workers began calling for the previous administration to invoke the DPA and get more personal protective equipment (PPE) from almost the beginning of the pandemic. There were small DPA “gestures” by the Trump administration, which claimed to have used the DPA 80 times. However, as the New York Times reported, they were overwhelmingly executive orders unrelated to the production of medical equipment or Defense Department expenditures that do not address the nation’s supply shortages.”

Today, even with Biden’s executive order last week, here’s the one thing we can say for certain: Biden, just like his predecessor, has refused to put human lives before profit. To do so would require a frontal assault on the profits of Big Pharma, one of the industrial sectors in this country that has significant ownership of the Democratic and Republican parties and the politicians bought and sold through its political action committees.

You might be interested in: Vaccine Imperialism: Wealthy Countries Are Hoarding Doses

The DPA  authorizes a president to require U.S. companies to accept and prioritize government contracts to produce materials for a broadly defined “national defense” — and to do so without consideration of whether it would mean a loss for the business. In other words, the Biden administration has the power, today, to force Moderna and Pfizer to reveal every bit of information from their patented vaccine compounds, hand that over to other pharmaceutical manufacturers, and compel them to convert some of their productive capacity to replicating the vaccines — thus producing many more doses than are currently available. If that means less profit for Moderna and Pfizer, too bad. If that means other drug firms have to stop making some of their blockbusters for things like athlete’s foot to make room for vaccine production, so be it.

The DPA also authorizes the president to requisition property, force industry to expand production, and allocate raw materials.

If the corporations push back, the government has another power in its hands: nationalize the pharmaceutical industry.

Employing the DPA to solve the vaccine shortage is simple and straightforward. It could be initiated by the time you’ve finished reading this article. So why hasn’t it happened already?

The U.S. government is run on behalf of the people who own these means of production. That ruling class is in charge, not the government that pretends to represent the vast majority of people who face economic devastation and possible death as the pandemic persists.

Profits before people is an iron-clad law of capitalism. The only way to turn that around is to destroy this stinking, rotten system of exploitation and replace it with our own system — one that reverses that law and doesn’t just put people before profits, but gets rid of profit altogether.

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Scott Cooper

Scott is a writer, editor, and longtime socialist activist who lives in the Boston area.

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