[Plura-list] Who owns the covid vaccines?

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sun May 16 12:07:23 EDT 2021


This Weds (5/19), I'm doing a talk called "Seize the Means of
Computation," at the Ryerson Centre for Free Expression:


And on Thu (5/20), I'm doing a keynote called "Privacy Without
Monopoly," for the Northsec conference:



Today's links

* Who owns the covid vaccines: Socializing risk and privatizing gain for
fun and profit.

* This day in history: 2001, 2011, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


🧢 Who owns the covid vaccines

A key idea from sf is "all laws are local, and no law knows how local it
is." Prisoners of our own time and place, it's hard not to feel like
we're living in the only possible world, is if everything around us is
inevitable and natural - and any change is "unnatural."

But anyone who's ever dabbled in multi-agent modeling (sims where
"individuals" each have their own goals and aversions) knows there are
*lots* of stable configurations that a big, complex system can fall
into, and re-rerunning the same sim produces *wildly* different outcomes.

14 months ago, we hit STOP on our big, complex system and now the US is
about to hit START again. It will not be a return to "normalcy," because
the old normal wasn't inevitable. There are *lots* of other ways we
could get along. And frankly, the old normal sucked.

A key way in which Old Normal sucked was the way that monopolists were
able to style themselves as heroic entrepreneurs whose great rewards
were commensurate with their great risks - when in reality, the risks
were always socialized and only the gains were privatized.

That's an area where a new normal is long overdue, and that new normal
is being born in the controversy over public access to covid vaccines.

Helping the poor world manufacture its own vaccines is the obvious right
thing to do.

Not just because vaccine apartheid is slow genocide, but also because
the longer billions of people are infected, the greater the chance that
one of them will incubate a vaccine-resistant, even more deadly mutation.

MRNA vaccines are wild: compared to conventional vaccines, they can be
manufactured with 99.7% less capital and 99.9% less physical plant, and
mRNA production facilities can retool to make new vaccines 1,000% faster.


Moderna's own assessment is that new mRNA facilities can be built in 3-4
months. There's no good scientific or humanitarian reason to object to
patent- and know-how transfer to the Global South, where vaccination is
currently projected for 2023/4 (!).


We've just experienced the collapse of the racist lie - peddled by Big
Pharma, Bill Gates, Howard Dean and other vaccine apartheid apologists -
that poor brown people are too primitive to make vaccines.

The new talking point? "CHINA! CHINA! CHINA!"


Whether it's racist lies about the Global South or New Cold War
hysteria, the underlying ideological story is the same: exclusive patent
rights and the (spectacular) profits they yield are the foundation of
lifesaving medical innovation.

That is, fate has placed among us a tiny cohort of collosi, endowed with
the superpower of inventing the future. But for all their creative
might, these saviors-in-potentia have the fragile temperaments of
toddlers, and if they're denied their due, they'll abandon us to die.

"Behind every great fortune lies a great crime." The true mRNA vaccines
theft isn't entrepreneur-inventors who face robbery by the public sector
- rather, those "entrepreneurs" have enjoyed billions in public
subsidies, and now insist they owe nothing in return.

So much public investment went into the covid vaccines that it's hard to
account for it all. The GAO thinks that Uncle Sam coughed up $18-23b in
direct subsidies. BARDA pumped in $19.3b.


The USG picked up the tab for non-clinical studies of new covid vaccines
($900m), and also shelled out for Phase III trials ($2.7b).

Moderna got $53m for production capacity, part of $100m in direct
capacity contracts to pharma, backed with $2.7b for contract manufacturers.

J&J got a $1b pre-order from the USG; Moderna got $4.95b, Pfizer (which
touts its lack of public subsidy!) got a $5.97b guaranteed order.

That's just the latest round of investment. BARDA has been backing mRNA
vaccine research for years, pumping billions into the project.

Pharma's claim that it doesn't owe us anything in return makes no sense,
even by the companies' own logic. They say that markets produce wonders
because they reward canny risk-taking with vast fortunes.

By that logic, the public - who assumed the majority of the risk in
developing vaccines - are the angel investors in this high-tech unicorn,
and the pharma companies are the VCs who came in with some late capital
to help scale up a sure thing.

It's neither good business - nor legal - for early minority investors
get squeezed out by latecomers.

But, of course, the government isn't a business. Our democratic
institutions direct our national productive capacity to R&D in service
to human thriving, not profit.

Public investment in R&D isn't a business in the same way that having
kids isn't a retirement plan: we have kids because we love them and want
them to thrive. If they care for us in our dotage, that's great, but if
you treat your kid as an ambulatory 401k, you're a monster.

I first encountered these ideas when serving as an NGO rep at WIPO
alongside Jamie Love and Knowledge Ecology International. Love helped
create the Access to Medicines Treaty and has been fighting the pharma
industry's self-serving story of fragile genius for decades.

In an interview with Janine Jackson at FAIR, Love lays out the plain
case for an IP-waiver to enable poor countries to make their own
vaccines, like the undeniable truth that this would "definitely expand
the production and supply of vaccines."


Love also recounts the kind of public subsidy that went into covid
vaccine production (for example, Pfizer's boasts of free enterprise
entrepreneurship omits the €400m from Germany and €100m from the rest of
the EU).

Pharma's claims of philanthropic largesse are wildly overblown. Pfizer
told its shareholders it expects $26b from covid vaccines in 2021;
Moderna's projecting $20b (Moderna's CEO's personal net worth just hit $5b).

All that *before* pharma companies jack up the prices for "their"
vaccines, in the years to come when we all need annual boosters, when
the price will go from $10 to $175/dose, for a vaccine that costs
$0.10/dose to manufacture.

The case for public access to vaccines and the case against pharma as a
necessary or even laudable force for good is so thin, it's remarkable
that it's persisted this long.

But as Love points out, the ideology that knowledge-monopolies are moral
has some powerful backers.

Bill Gates is a prime example. Gates has been committed to enclosing
commonly created knowledge and turning it into a monopoly - in service
to coaxing our toddler-genius-collosi into action - since he was a
teenager, writing petulant letters to computer hobbyists.

Today, Gates - a convicted monopolist - directs one of the world's great
fortunes ("behind every great fortune..."), and he mobilizes his capital
to prop up the story of necessary and benevolent profiteering.

The Gates Foundation, for example, donates millions to "independent"
media outlets (as well as partnering with public media like the BBC),
and as Love describes, this has a chilling effect on negative reporting
on Gates, the Foundation, and its ideology.

Like the time Love got a Washington Monthly reporter interested in a
critical story about how the Gates Foundation's grants influence its
media coverage - only to have the reporter's editor kill the story
because they'd just applied for one of those grants (!).

Gates is a true ideologue, a relentless campaigner against any public
access to public goods, in every domain, not just software. He's been at
it a long time, leading the charge against Nelson Mandela's demand that
South Africa be allowed to manufacture its own AIDS drugs.

Love: "Gates is a smart guy; he’s not the only smart guy around or smart
woman around. I think people need to listen to other views. And,
actually, Gates has sort of a mental block about these issues, and so
some of his arguments just don’t add up."

But all laws are local, and multi-agent systems have many stable
configurations. On Friday, the *New York Times* editorial board - long a
voice for strong corporate power - published an editorial and
accompanying package strongly endorsing vaccine waivers.


The Times notes that the global economy is losing trillions due to
lockdown, and that these loses will mount for so long as vaccines aren't
universally available.

But it also makes an ethical case, calling vaccine apartheid a "moral

It warns of political instability and the potential for states to topple
if something isn't done, pointing to the pitched battles in Colombia (in
which death squads are now murdering leftists with impunity and posting
snuff videos to social media as a boast - and a warning).

Beyond advocating for vaccine waivers, the Times backs Public Citizen's
plan to spend $25b ramping up domestic, publicly owned vaccine
production facilities to make vaccines to be given away free or at cost
to poor countries.


That effort will produce 8b vaccine doses, "enough to vaccinate half the
planet." And it will provide booster shots and new anti-variant vaccines
into the future.

The future is coming. Lockdowns are lifting. The rich world is inching
toward an emergence from emergency. But normalcy isn't returning - thank
goodness. The whole world deserves (and requires) so much better than


🧢 This day in history

#20yrsago Excellent history of weblogs

#20yrsago Having “sex” in your surname gets you into trouble with
profanity filters http://bissex.net/paul/profanity.gif

#10yrsago Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation: a masterful, likable reboot of one of
the great sf classics

#10yrsago Piracy sends “Go the Fuck to Sleep” to #1 on Amazon

#5yrsago Lumberjanes: ground-breaking, wonderful, hilarious comic about
adventurous girls

#5yrsago The Intercept begins publishing Snowden docs

#1yrago Google faces antitrust blitz


🧢 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing:

* Breach, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. Friday's
progress: 352 words (352 words total).

* A short story about consumer data co-ops.  PLANNING

* A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation.  PLANNING

* A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written
with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown."  FINAL EDITS

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 06)

Upcoming appearances:

* Seize the Means of Computation, Ryerson Centre for Free Expression,
May 19,

* Privacy Without Monopoly, Northsec, May 20,

* In conversation with David Dayen (Second Life Book Club), Jun 4,

* Book launch for Terry Miles's Rabbits (Book Soup), Jun 7,

Recent appearances:

* Mohanraj and Rosenbaum Are Humans

* Can Antitrust Laws Destroy Surveillance Capitalism? (Majority Report)

* In conversation with John Scalzi at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics,
Beacon Press 2022

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
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provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
Guy" DeVilla

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