Unhealthy alliance of big pharma and big government

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Adam Creighton The Australian September 8, 2022

“We finally beat pharma,” Joe Biden yelled repeatedly at a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Monday, a claim that must have drawn a quiet snigger from any pharmaceutical company executives who happened to be watching. Only a declaration of victory over big tech would have been more ridiculous. The US pharmaceutical industry has never been so powerful and profitable, wallowing in revenue from its Covid-19 vaccines, and all thanks mainly to the US federal government, which has acted as salesman and enforcer-in-chief for what had been an industry notorious for misconduct and greed. “I really believe this is why God gave us two arms, one for the flu shot and the other one for the Covid shot,” White House Covid-19 response co-ordinator Ashish Jha said on Tuesday. Big pharma itself couldn’t have come up with a better pitch for its growing range of boosters and Covid-19 treatments. Not since the egregious bailout of Wall Street by the Obama administration in 2009 has an industry benefited so much from the US government. Big pharma enjoys legal immunity from any damage ultimately caused by its burgeoning array of Covid-19 products. The Biden administration tried to force working Americans to take big pharma’s products until the Supreme Court said it was illegal. The US is the only major developed nation to recommend vaccination against Covid-19 for six-month-old babies. And international efforts to pare back big pharma’s patents over Covid-19 vaccines have come largely to nought. Pfizer is on track to rake in $US100bn ($149bn) this year, up 25 per cent from last year and more than double its 2020 revenue of just over $US41bn, according to its own estimates. The share price at Moderna, the other manufacturer of the most widely used Covid-19 vaccine, was $US131 on Wednesday (AEST), up from $US20 in early 2020. The US President in his remarks was talking about the Inflation Reduction Act, a law passed last month by slim Democrat majorities in congress that aims to cut out-of-pocket costs for a handful of prescription medicines for low-income Americans. A laudable aim, but the new rules don’t take effect fully for years, more than enough time for the 1600 pharmaceutical industry lobbyists in Washington – more than three for every member of congress, according to OpenSecrets – to grind them down to irrele­vance. The industry has a good claim to being the most pow­er­ful in the US. It spent $US357m on lobbying last year, more than any other industry ever has and far ahead of the derided oil and gas industry, which has spent less than $US120m. Democrats have come to receive the bulk of the sector’s political donations. Biden has received more in campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies (more than $US8.8m), than Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Donald Trump or anyone who was ever in congress, according to the Poynter Institute. Big pharma’s power extends beyond Washington. The industry spends more on marketing and sales than it does on research and development, including more than $US4.5bn on television advertisements in 2020, which was about a quarter of all TV advertising expenditure, according to Statista. Almost half of the revenue of the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medicines in the US, comes from the pharmaceutical companies in user fees. Top health bureaucrats can choose between approving a drug or having less money to empire build. It’s money well spent, it seems. Some doctors have expressed alarm that Pfizer’s latest Omicron booster, being rolled out by the Biden administration this month for anyone over 12, has been tested on only eight mice. “I don’t think you should ever ask tens of millions of people to get a vaccine based on mouse data,” Paul Offit, one of the members of the FDA’s vaccine advisers, said last week. The administration said waiting for human data would take too long. Offit is obviously fully apprised of how much of a (financial) emergency this is. The sudden reverence granted to pharmaceutical companies since the start of the pandemic is strange given their track record. In 2019 the pharmaceutical industry had the lowest positive rating share of 24 private sector industries, according to an annual Gallup survey, which is perhaps not surprising. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson paid a combined almost $US6bn in fines between 2003 and 2016 to state and federal regulators, according to a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “All large pharmaceutical firms explicitly state that they are focused on promoting patient welfare, yet the majority of large pharmaceutical firms engage in illegal activities that harm patient welfare,” study co-author and University of North Carolina professor Denis Arnold wrote. Pharmaceutical companies have never been so rich and powerful, yet Americans’ health has been in secular decline for years. Life expectancy has been falling in the US, especially among working-class white Americans, even as routine use of medication relentlessly rises. American children have lost seven IQ points since 2000, according to the University of California’s Robert Gorter. Obesity and diabetes have overwhelmed the health sector. For all the relentless talk about public health in the past few years, Americans are at their least healthy in a generation. Similar, if less extreme, trends are evident throughout the developed world. Few politicians or health bureaucrats encourage exercise or healthy diets, which could mitigate the need for medication. The pharmaceutical industry has no interest in a healthy person, who generates no revenue. Ultimately, this ever-closer relationship between government and big pharma will damage respect for both. Barely 5 per cent of American families have followed the recommendation to vaccinate children under the age of five against Covid-19, despite the current health advice. 1/ Some doctors have expressed alarm that Pfizer’s latest Omicron booster, being rolled out by the Biden administration this month for anyone over 12, has been tested on only eight mice


Dallas Beaufort

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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