Donald Trump resumed daily White House briefings regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on July 20. He had pouted and quit that role in late April after facing criticism and ridicule for having downplayed the pandemic, for his promotion of disinfectant as a possible cure for COVID-19, and generally for his anti-science approach.
Narcissistic and ill-informed, Trump is an easy mark for late-night talk show comedy monologues. But mixed in with all the absurdities by Trump is a clear expression of the agenda of U.S. billionaires.
They are unwilling to put their profits on hold or continue government spending for the welfare of millions of workers who have been thrown out of work by the pandemic. Unlike cancer or diabetes, heart disease or obesity — all public health killers — COVID-19 is contagious, highly contagious. Staying at home, wearing masks and social distancing are all necessary measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Their plan would see schools reopen so that working parents could be forced back to their jobs. Reopening the economy in its entirety is the goal, and the push to come up with a vaccine in a recklessly short time is their hoped-for magic bullet. The White House goal is to have a vaccine by the end of 2020. The vaccine against Ebola took five years to go into trial and that was much faster than previous vaccines.
Capitalism benefits by its government intersecting with science. Scientists and medical professionals that hold positions in a capitalist government play a dual role. They are also beholden to the same profit-seeking capitalist compulsion, but at times have to resist it to try to navigate through a crisis.
During this pandemic, they are advocates of measures to slow the spread of the virus: testing, social distancing, masks, contact tracing, quarantine of infected individuals, and shutting down workplaces, schools, bars, restaurants and churches. Trump’s buffoonish leadership aside, this contradiction between the capitalist compulsion to exploit workers and the professionals who want to pause profits in the interest of rationality and human life is what is behind the apparent rift between the Trump-Pence wing of the White House Task Force and it’s more cautious and science-minded members.
Even in the absence of a vaccine, there has been great success against the disease by vigorously sticking to a regime of anti-pandemic measures in places like China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, South Korea, North Korea and the state of Kerala in India. In each of those places there is some measure of universal health care.
China’s population is roughly four times greater than that of the U.S. but suffered about one-thirtieth of the death count from COVID-19.
Cuba’s death toll out of a population of 11 million people was limited to just 87 people. Cuba has developed two treatments that aid the recovery of people already infected. Both drugs have been shared and used internationally.
Parallel to the anti-China rhetoric that emanated from the White House during May and June, the World Health Organization, a United Nations entity, has become a target of the Trump administration. The World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, met virtually in May, and while the U.S. attacked the WHO and foisted a resolution on the entire body that slandered China and the WHO itself, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that a Chinese success in developing a vaccine would be for “global public good.” Within days, the White House confirmed that it would cut funding to the WHO. Trump said the WHO was too “cozy with China.”
U.S. capitalists don’t see medicine as being for “global public good.” When a U.S. pharmaceutical company develops a product that may be profitable, they send an army of lobbyists to push for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
The capitalist rush to come up with a vaccine has created a feverish competition in the U.S. and other capitalist countries. More than 70 efforts are underway internationally. Under Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed,” more than $10 billion is being paid out to 14 pharmaceutical companies to develop, produce and distribute a vaccine. This is not a cooperative venture — each company is jealously guarding its research, and regardless of their success, they will have been paid in full out of taxpayer money. How much profit has been baked into each of their contracts is being kept under wraps.
The U.S. Justice Department has absurdly accused China of stealing Western research on a vaccine. It was China’s unprecedented and rapid mapping of the genetic code of the virus and sharing it with the world that actually spawned the initial research for a vaccine. According to ABC News Australia, “the University of Queensland team began developing a vaccine against COVID-19 on January 10 — the day the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first made public.”
In recent days, news reports about advances in the development of vaccines centered around Oxford and AstraZeneca and Moderna. China’s state-owned pharmaceutical Sinopharm has also begun phase III clinical trials as have three nonstate Chinese corporations.
The successful development of an effective vaccine would be welcomed by the entire world. But the Trump administration’s rushed and reckless effort for a vaccine as a substitute for tried and true anti-pandemic measures while putting people back to work and in harm’s way must be rejected.