On the pandemic: Patently captive to Bill Gates

I will make it clear from the beginning.  I was among the first to get vaccinated, I believed that the “Green Pass” would protect me from disease, and the “disappearance” of the coronavirus in Israel only strengthened my faith in science and scientists. All this until the Delta variant infiltrated via Ben Gurion Airport, and we are now asked to get a third booster dose. Former PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who checked his own level of antibodies and found that they had dissipated, came out with the battle cry “Go get vaccinated for the third time.” I did not believe what I heard, thinking it yet another political prank by someone who wants to escape justice at all costs, until his words resonated in the Ministry of Health. The Ministry then decided to recommend a third dose, even though there is no scientific proof of its effectiveness, and without waiting for approval by the US Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Although I began to doubt the motives for this decision, I was not decisive because I generally believe in doctors and medicine. That is, until Professor Dror Mevorach of Hadassah Hospital, who seems credible and wise, tweeted on July 28: “Suppose we give a third vaccine dose. It will raise the level of antibodies, that’s obvious, and even though there is no information, it is probably quite safe. Okay. How long will the increase in antibodies last? Probably only a few months. So what’s the plan? A vaccination every 3-4 months for 6 million people, that is, $600 million a year for vaccines whose benefit (beyond two) has not been proven?”

Even among CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) officials there were many who doubted the urgency of giving the third dose, while others implied that Pfizer was promoting it for economic reasons. Pfizer’s profits do not interest me if the third dose can save my life and that of my relatives. However, while fiddling among the news channels, I heard one doctor say with gritted teeth a sentence that has since been engraved in my mind: “The World Health Organization opposes a third vaccine because it comes at the expense of the poor countries that have so far not vaccinated their citizens.” Here the moral consideration conflicts with the health consideration: Will I receive a third dose at the expense of another who has not yet been vaccinated at all? It looks like sheer piggishness.

Added to this is what seems to me to be a purely health consideration. As the professor said, “How long will the rise of antibodies last? Probably only a few months.” The conclusion is that until all of humanity is vaccinated, each of us will remain exposed to the appearance of new variants. Pfizer will continue to make profits, but the pandemic will not end. After checking, I realized that the percentage of those vaccinated in poor countries is only 1.5%, and according to the World Health Organization, 11 billion vaccines will be needed for humanity to reach a 70% level of immunization (enough perhaps to halt the pandemic). Through Covax, the World Health Organization is responsible for distributing vaccines to poor countries, and it is estimated that at the current rate of vaccination, the operation will not end until 2024. In other words, we expect another three whole years during which new variants will develop, each one more dangerous and contagious than the previous.

Why does it take so long to distribute vaccines to all of humanity? The answer is simple and shocking. Because we are captive to the big, patent-holding big pharma companies, which are accountable to their shareholders, and to them alone. These companies are willing to sell to the highest bidder, and rich countries are willing to pay any price to extricate themselves from the pandemic.  Thus, while in rich countries the level of immunization exceeds 50%, the poor countries are left alone. Tens of thousands of people die in them every day, and the virus continues to mutate new and dangerous variants.

Anyone who tries to dig a little deeper to understand this absurdity will soon come across the name of Bill Gates, founder of Covax. Gates has a decisive influence on the World Health Organization, being its largest private donor and second only to the U.S. government. From the beginning Gates understood the severity of the pandemic and began to mobilize governments and scientists. People like Anthony Fauci, the chief American epidemiologist, and prime ministers including Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel, were recruited to Covax. One of Gates’ arguments was that the production of a large “purchasing group” of poor countries would create a volume of demand, thus making it possible to compete with the rich countries for vaccines. It sounds good, but there’s a catch. Gates yields to the refusal by large pharma companies to suspend the patents they own. These patents hold the Third World by the throat. They prevent small companies and governments from producing vaccines en masse, simply and cheaply—which could be done. Gates’ argument is that vaccines are not a profitable product, and if we cancel the patents, big pharma will have no motive to continue developing vaccines and we will be left without protection against future epidemics. This claim ignores the fact that vaccines do not reach those who cannot pay anyway. As a result, we shall all, rich and poor, pay a tremendous price in health, as the third vaccine dose already demonstrates.

Bill Gates’ idea relies on pure capitalist logic. The whole world is being forced to accept his dictates. Henceforth, those that deal with pandemics will not be states but unelected philanthropists like him. It should not be forgotten how they got to be rich.

The development and spread of the Delta variant, and the negligible percentage of vaccines in poor countries, prove that philanthropy cannot replace the state. Gates’ philosophy, resembling that of other good people like Netanyahu and Bennett, is that the private sector is more efficient, agile and innovative. But reality has proven that it is also dangerous. In the United States, the worship of neoliberalism and the free market, and the desire to eliminate state regulations, led in 2016 to the election of Trump, and four years later to the brink of democracy’ s destruction. Only after voters understood the evils of capital’s rule could American society shift to a saner course.

Ignoring the world’s poor, the rich countries want to continue providing their citizens with a standard of living and personal security that allow rulers to be re-elected. Yet the poor want to live too. Millions of migrants are knocking on the U.S.-Mexico border, while many thousands continue to try crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe. If they do not drown, they are rejected time after time but try again. They remind us that every human being wants a good and safe life. On the other hand, the border-crossing mutations also remind us that disease cannot be stopped at the doors of the wealthy. Relying on Bill Gates and his neo-liberal teachings will not help. Each country’s attempt to treat the pandemic on its own, together with the refusal to repeal patents on vaccines and drugs, perpetuate the misery for everyone, causing loss of livelihoods and death worldwide.

Even in the wealthy countries, state resources have been depleted by reducing taxes on the rich. Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and the like have only increased their power and wealth, so much so that they, and not elected governments, today control management of the greatest health disaster humanity has known in a century. It is time to step up, shunt aside the exploiters who control our lives, and restore to ourselves—through democratic institutions—the management of a crisis that threatens all of us.

The lesson from the pandemic, as from the climate crisis, is clear: there are no national solutions. We are one climatic unit. Emissions in China affect weather in the United States. A mutation that appears in India affects the health of Israelis, Americans and everyone else. Both issues are urgent and pressing. Poverty is not just a problem for Africa and Latin America; it has become—patently—a problem for all.

About Yacov Ben Efrat