Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

'Normal' is killing us.

Donald Trump is out of the White House. COVID-19 is fading, at least in wealthier nations. The world, they say, is returning to “normal.” That’s the narrative that the corporate media is selling. But there’s a problem: “normal” is destroying our planet, threatening our democracies, concentrating massive wealth in a tiny elite, and leaving billions of people without access to life-saving vaccines amid a deadly pandemic. Here at Common Dreams, we refuse to accept any of this as “normal.” Common Dreams just launched our Mid-Year Campaign to make sure we have the funding we need to keep the progressive, independent journalism of Common Dreams alive. Whatever you can afford—no amount is too large or too small—please donate today to support our nonprofit, people-powered journalism and help us meet our goal.

Please select a donation method:

An employee of ALMO, one of the leading manufacturers of disposable syringes worldwide, works at the company's production facility in Bad Arolsen, Germany on December 15, 2020. (Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

An employee of ALMO, one of the leading manufacturers of disposable syringes worldwide, works at the company's production facility in Bad Arolsen, Germany on December 15, 2020. (Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

Report Debunks Big Pharma's 'Dangerous Narrative' on Vaccine Supplies

"We need urgent public manufacturing and technology sharing to meet global need and end the pandemic."

As an artificially low supply of Covid-19 vaccines prolongs the global pandemic, opponents of intellectual property waivers and other measures aimed at increasing the worldwide production of doses are claiming that pharmaceutical corporations are capable of quickly rectifying shortages on their own.

"Pharmaceutical companies have a financial interest in exaggerating their ability to deliver and downplaying the risks."
—Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen

According to a new analysis published Thursday by advocacy group Public Citizen, however, this "dangerous narrative"—peddled by Big Pharma and based on "unrealistic" manufacturing projections—undermines efforts to develop and implement the ambitious policies necessary to expand the production of life-saving vaccines and bring the greatest public health crisis in a century to an end.

"People suffering and waiting for vaccines worldwide cannot afford for leaders to embrace wildly optimistic forecasts suggesting Covid-19 doses soon will be available," Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program, said in a statement. "We need urgent public manufacturing and technology sharing to meet global need and end the pandemic."

Prior to U.S. President Joe Biden's surprise endorsement last week of the India and South Africa-led motion at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend coronavirus-related intellectual property barriers for the duration of the pandemic, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) wrote the White House in an attempt to dissuade Biden from supporting the proposal, which is now backed by nearly every country outside of the European Union

In their letter (pdf), the industry lobbyists claimed that "Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers will supply approximately 10 billion doses by the end of 2021, enough to vaccinate the entire current global vaccine eligible population."

Although PhRMA failed to prevent Biden from embracing the movement for a vaccine patent waiver, Public Citizen warned Thursday that the emerging narrative that "the supply problem will soon be resolved" is still being "weaponized against structural reforms aimed at expanding supply." At the WTO, where decisions are made by consensus, any one of the body's 164 member nations can thwart the will of the supermajority. 

"Pharmaceutical companies have a financial interest in exaggerating their ability to deliver and downplaying the risks," Maybarduk explained. 

Meanwhile, COVAX—the United Nations-backed program to allocate vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, which health justice advocates have accused rich donor countries of hiding behind while they oppose the WTO patent waiver as well as C-TAP, the World Health Organization's voluntary technology transfer program—had shipped less than 50 million doses by the end of April, roughly one-fifth of its projected target of 235 million jabs.

Public Citizen argued in its analysis that the pharmaceutical industry's rosy outlook on global vaccine supply recklessly subverts attempts to develop and implement a truly viable program for boosting production while failing to account for the following six factors:

  1. Some vaccines may not be widely authorized by stringent regulatory authorities;
  2. Existing manufacturers may not be able to rapidly scale-up due to production errors and other delays, including shortages of raw materials;
  3. Boosters may fuel additional demand;
  4. Variants may render some current vaccines ineffective;
  5. Countries may stockpile doses; and
  6. Even if 10 billion doses are produced and distributed equitably, it may not be enough.

According to Public Citizen, "even if none of the risks identified above materialize... vaccinating the world will require 12 billion doses" assuming 80% of the global population needs to be inoculated.

 "Crossing our fingers is not a sustainable public health strategy."
—Zain Rizvi, Public Citizen

"The global response to ending the pandemic cannot be based on the most optimistic assumptions," said Zain Rizvi, law and policy researcher at Public Citizen and author of the analysis. "Crossing our fingers is not a sustainable public health strategy."

Instead of relying on a handful of private companies to rapidly produce billions of doses, a coalition of more than 60 groups, led by Public Citizen, recently urged Biden to immediately launch a global vaccine manufacturing program, as Common Dreams reported last month.

Public Citizen estimates that with "a whole-of-government effort to share technology, source raw materials, and provide technical assistance... the U.S. government can help rapidly produce 8 billion doses of mRNA vaccine for $25 billion."

"A waiver on intellectual property can further help remove obstacles to production," Rizvi noted. "The unprecedented global crisis demands an all-hands-on-deck response."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Support progressive journalism.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

US and Israel Vote 'No' as 184 Nations Condemn American Blockade of Cuba

"The U.N. vote... on Cuba was a chance for President Biden to show global leadership," said CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin. "He failed miserably."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


With Planet's Future at Stake, Biden Told to Be Bold With Pick for Top Energy Post

"It's time to treat climate change like the emergency it is, and stop approving new fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, reads a letter signed by over 300 climate-focused groups.

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·


SCOTUS Solidifies Students' Free Speech Protections, Upholding Right to Say 'F**k Cheer'

"The message from this ruling is clear—free speech is for everyone, and that includes public school students."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


Right-Wing SCOTUS Majority Rules Union Organizing on Farms Violates Landowners' Rights

The Supreme Court "fails to balance a farmer's property rights with a farm worker's human rights," said United Farm Workers of America.

Kenny Stancil, staff writer ·


Lawmakers Tell Biden US Has 'Moral Obligation' to Ban Landmines

"If the United States takes these steps it will be welcomed around the world."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·