War of the vaccines: Capitalism is an obstacle to the discovery of a treatment

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All the media recognise that the world pandemic SARS-CoV2 (Covid 19) which, at the time of writing, has infected ten million people and caused the death of 500,000 of them, has pushed the scientific community into a race against time for the development of a vaccine. But they are also obliged to admit that this "race for a vaccine" is still far from being at the stage of a "final sprint".

Since the nineteenth century and the creation of the first vaccine against rabies by Louis Pasteur in 1881 using the principle of inoculation, there has been enormous progress in methods of cellular culture in viruses on the basis of biotechnologies and genetics, allowing the emergence of several viral vaccines, but now we are being told that a vaccine against Covid-19 will only be available at the end of 2021! In fact, all the specialists agree that it takes on average 10 to 15 years to find a reliable vaccine and put it to work because, outside of delays in its conception and fabrication, an uncompressed three-staged, large scale experimentation programme is indispensable: test the vaccine on animals, test it on a non-infected population and finally test it on the sick: "That means that there are many trials, many errors, but we have many other options to explore" judged Benjamin Neuman, virologist at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, "Because a very efficient vaccine against a member of the family of coronaviruses has never been designed for humans".

Late or abandoned preventative measures

It's an astonishing declaration because coronaviruses are not unknown to science! SARS-CoV1 (which appeared at the end of 2002 in south-east China) and MERS-CoV (appearing in Saudi Arabia in 2012), the two big brothers of SARS-CoV2, had already given rise to some scientific research with a view to creating a vaccine. In the first case, research was halted and plans for a vaccine dropped even before any experimentation on humans. In the second, research is still ongoing and being tested on animals. Despite the fact that for some years scientists have envisaged "the threat of a pandemic like Covid-19", scientific studies on coronaviruses and the development of vaccines have been judged to be ... "unprofitable"! The domain of scientific research in the service of public health is constantly under threat, hampered by the lack of financial and logistical means. It was one of the first victims of budget reductions whatever the political colouring of the government in power: "In May 2019, Donald Trump shut down a special unit of the UN Security Council, composed of eminent experts charged with the fight against pandemics"[1] "After Swine Flu in 2009, functionaries of the European Commission published a report containing political recommendations but the Commission was then rebuffed by EU member states (...). After SARS in 2003, the European Centre for the Control of Diseases was created and it did excellent work. But it counted only 180 collaborators (...). At Sciensano (the national institute for public health in Belgium) there were very competent personnel ... but the institute is weak because of a lack of investment"[2] .

Now they tell us: "In order to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV2, researchers are basing themselves on studies concerning SARS-CoV1 and MERS-CoV"[3]. 17 years have passed since the appearance of the first virus! 17 lost years in the search for a vaccine which could have saved thousands of lives!

The competitive race against time...

Faced with the breadth and the present ravages of the pandemic across the world, simple logic tells you that it is necessary to develop cooperation, an international coordination of concerted scientific efforts and a concentrated mobilisation of scientific knowledge in search of a vaccine in order to catch up as much as possible after the unavoidable delays in the struggle against this scourge.

But that's not at all the case in the present reality; on the contrary. The current world race that we are seeing in order to find vaccines and treatments takes on frenzied, chaotic and disordered allures, everyone for themselves: "More than a hundred projects have been launched in the world and a dozen clinical trials are underway to try to find a cure against the sickness"[4]. According to the media, all the pharmaceutical giants like Sanofi (French pharmaceutical enterprise), Gilead Sciences (US pharmaceutical laboratory), GlaxoSmithKline (British pharmaceutical giant), Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (New York based business), Johnson and Johnson (American firm) and the Chinese business, CanSino, to name only a few, are doing some of these trials but are doing it on their own.

Why are we faced with such a situation? These are the very laws of capitalism, reflected by the weight of ambitions of all states and the competition between them, which doesn't allow society to function other than through the law of profit and generalised competition in a dispersed and chaotic manner. In the same way, capitalism has held back, slowed down, sabotaged and stopped all measures of prevention and research budgets in all sectors of health; and the functioning of capitalism and its laws are directly opposed to the common pooling of information and the indispensable centralisation of resources needed for the discovery of an effective vaccine.

... at the expense of the health of the population...

This sprint to find a vaccine and a "miracle remedy" against Covid-19 is not without tragic consequences for the rest of world health: throughout, researchers and virologists warn against the dangers of this sudden precipitation: "Some deaths are due to reckless research (...) Today science goes too quickly and that has considerable consequences (...) There's not enough time for critical reflection on scientific results, which has serious consequences"[5].

A considerable amount of work is being carried out on "substitute vaccines" and oriented towards recycling older virus treatments, resuming research into abandoned vaccines such as the ones against malaria or Ebola, which were judged in the past to be "non-profitable"[6] but which have become, from one day to the next, an "interesting perspective" for the access of new markets opened by the pandemic of SARS-CoV2. That shows the total impotence and disarray of the "scientific community".

But above all, this can only end up with the precipitous circulation onto the market of "cheap" vaccines, of poor quality and insufficiently tested. That also means that an incalculable and dizzying number of new victims will pay for the consequences with their lives.

... but for the profit of states.

In reality, capitalism, the bourgeois class and its states do not care about the health of their populations: "If the insane amounts invested into military expenses and research had been invested in health and the well-being of populations, never could such a pandemic develop"[7].

“From the businesses developing the vaccine against the coronavirus, who will be the first to commercialise it?”[8] "A vaccine against the coronavirus: will country be the priority?[9] These are the big questions that the bourgeoisie are posing through their media! The facts are clear: instead of centralising and unifying all scientific work in order to produce as quickly as possible a treatment and a vaccine, each pharmaceutical firm jealously guards the stages and levels of research in its own laboratories in order to be the first to find a vaccine, to get the patent which then gives it the monopoly of manufacture for a period of at least 7 to 12 years. In order to cover the immense costs required for their work, they turn towards the highest bidders in exchange for the most sordid mercantile agreements. Among these, the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, which, without scruples, announced that it would distribute an eventual vaccine giving priority to the United States, which had invested 30 million dollars to support its research, in addition to the 226 million dollars from the American government already concluded in December 2019 with this firm on the production of vaccines against the virus... of the flu. The scandal provoked by this revelation about Sanofi and particularly the indignation of Macron are nothing but a masquerade. In reality, behind their hypocritical declarations and their "humanitarian" vows that a vaccine can't be subject to the "laws of the market", that "it must be used for the public good" and that "its access must be equitable and universal", hides the fear of Europe of losing points in the international race for a vaccine on the world market. Beyond the will of pharmaceutical companies to make their own profits, conforming to the logic of competition, the principal motor of capitalist society, they cannot escape the laws of state capitalism which makes each national state exercise the most tight control and the most strict vigilance on the orientations and management of its national economy and on the businesses which depend on it, including the most powerful "multinationals"[10]. In other words, it is the state which directs the financial policy of its enterprises.

A manifestation of the impasse of capitalism

Just like the "war of masks", the war of the vaccines is an "extremely edifying example of the cynical and frenzied competition which involves every state"[11] who are pursuing a simple objective: either to be the first to get their hands on a vaccine and hold a monopoly on it, or to claim certain privileges over it, or again, to avoid being run out of the race and having to "beg" for help. Bourgeois commentators recognise this: "Between American and European rivalry over a future vaccine and new tensions between Donald Trump and China, divisions between the major powers are deepening"[12]. Faced with the US and Chinese states, "Europe is throwing billions in the fight to obtain a vaccine (...) No member state (...) has a complete portfolio in order to develop the vaccine"[13]. Thus the Trump administration has subsidised research at AstraZeneca with 1.2 billion euros, in exchange for 300 million doses of the vaccine. And the states of the EU (Germany, France, Holland, Italy) want to tap into "urgent funds" of around 2.4 billion euros in order to accelerate negotiations on the preferential provision of the vaccine with pharmaceutical firms. It remains to be seen if this attempt to create a common purse succeeds, given the incapacity of the European Union to establish concerted measures regarding lock-downs and the management of the shortages of medical material.

The actions of the United States in withdrawing funds from the WHO, led by the Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who is accused by Trump of being used by China, is also a striking illustration of the savage and pitiless commercial and imperialist war being undertaken by the three main sharks (China, United States, EU) on the planet[14],  with all of them rejecting, with the greatest hypocrisy, the responsibility for the lack of coordination: while the United States accuses the WHO of "collusion" with China, the EU castigates the "egoistic" behaviour of the United States.

Left-leaning papers like The Guardian or similar are obliged to recognise that there is a lack of coordination but their lamentations only serve to mask the responsibility of the capitalist system as a whole. What is absolutely clear in this battle of the vaccines is that the preoccupation of the health of populations is not at all the central preoccupation of the state and the dominant class. The latter are only concerned to use health in order to impose and strengthen their place in the imperialist arena.

The greatest loser in the war of vaccines is humanity which will have to pay tribute, with an even greater number of victims, for the survival of this incurably sick system which can only lead to still more suffering. Only a society capable of mobilising itself, unifying and centralising its efforts in an associated manner at the world level can overcome this situation by starting from the basis of real human need.


Aube, June 30, 2020.


[2]  Interview with a Belgian virologist, De Standaard (30-31 May, 2020).

[3]  RTL infos (May 28, 2020).

[4]  La Croix, (May 15, 2020).

[5]  De Staandard, (May 20-21).

[6]  For example, research on a vaccine for the Ebola virus was cynically abandoned because African states were described as "bankrupt", to the detriment of the number of victims in the population.

[7]  “Generalised capitalist barbarism or world proletarian revolution”

[8]  Etoro, (March 18, 2020).

[9]  Rtbf, (May 18, 2020).

[10]  "Economic Crisis: the state, last rampart of capitalism".

[11]  "War of the masks: the bourgeoisie is a class of gangsters".

[12]  La Croix, (May 15, 2020).

[13]  De Standaard, (June 5, 2020).

[14]  The contract of exclusivity made by the US government on the production of Remdesivir, an anti-viral already used in the treatment of Ebola (but whose efficacy is doubtful in limiting the effects of Covid-19), under the noses of the EU which had just recommended its general use in Europe, brings another confirmation that this war of each against all is ruled by a gangster morality.


Covid Pandemic