White House Covid Vaccine Summit: A Good Day for Big Pharma

Arnie Mazer Writer at TrialSite News where it was originally posted on Jul. 26, 2022, 6:30 p.m.

Opinion Article

The White House hosted a “Summit on the Future of the Covid-19 Vaccine” on Tuesday featuring a combination of administration officials, scientists, and executives from the pharmaceutical industry. The summit was chaired by Dr. Ashish Jah, the White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator. Attendees included Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as well as Dr. Francis Collins, the former head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Also in attendance were the representatives of pharmaceutical companies, including Moderna and Pfizer. There is no question the advent of vaccines blunted the complete force of the Covid-19 pandemic as Fauci pointed out in his address to the group. He said that “vaccines have saved over 2 million lives and prevented 17 million hospitalizations” even though the World Health Organization pointed out, initially, the vaccines were not distributed equitably among poor nations while the pharmaceutical companies were reaping profits. But the emphasis of the Summit was on how vaccines will be developed and distributed.  

Big Pharma at the Summit

In his opening remarks, Dr. Jah extolled vaccines, saying they are “truly a miracle of human ingenuity and 70% of Americans are now vaccinated.” But Jah also said vaccines “need to be better.” Fauci talked about science and manufacturing working together to make sure vaccines are distributed equally and the private sector and science are working together to advance vaccine technology. Additionally, it was pointed out the Biden Administration is committed to the development of new vaccines. Fauci then presented slides of the projects the NIH was funding and developing with vaccine manufacturers. 

Included in this was a “Mosaic Approach,” a new form of vaccine that takes on multiple parts of the virus and could help protect against future Covid variants. Participating in the summit were Paul Burton of Moderna and Angela Hwang of Pfizer. Fauci’s presentation of the future of vaccines included the idea that vaccines need to be updated because the Covid virus is continually mutating.  

He emphasized the partnership between academia and the private sector. As effective as Fauci’s speech was, it also seemed as if he was giving free advertising to the drug companies with the idea of maximizing the benefits of the partnership of science and technology.  The transformative power of the new generation of vaccines continued to be pointed out and regional manufacturing of vaccines was repeatedly pointed to as a way to get more shots in arms. This point came from both Ashish Jah and Angela Hwang. Regional manufacturing and licensing is a way for pharmaceutical companies to increase profit. Moderna’s Paul Burton said manufacturing is a key part of the future, and the company had recently made deals to build new plants in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Kenya. In the future, vaccines will be administered through nasal sprays and patches. Angela Hwang pointed out that “probably two and a half billion people have received the Pfizer vaccine. That’s an incredible wealth of real-world evidence that we’re sitting on… I think that we have a great opportunity to also help us to understand, how can we design new therapies.” Hwang added Pfizer is “happy to be on this journey.”

mRNA Vaccines Originated with the Department of Defense

The summit gave a history of the mRNA vaccine and said the potion originated through a part of the Department of Defense known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The development of the vaccine came as a result of research to help American troops if they’d been exposed to biological warfare on the battlefield. Through that program and others, DARPA had been doing the groundwork for the United States to produce a rapid cure for a pathogen like Covid-19 for years. The pharmaceutical companies capitalized on developed technology and took it further. 

Transparency Emphasized

Summit panels continually talked about the fact not enough of the population has been vaccinated, and Dr. Francis Collins claimed the pandemic exposed the vulnerability of the American health care system. Collins said there was a need to build public trust even though, initially, the vaccines were not “distributed with equity.” This included the fact that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) has to do a better job of vaccine distribution through what was termed an “allocation framework”.  In closing, Dr. Ashish Jah emphasized, again, the importance of public and private partnerships. The summit was, overall, informative and a great day for the pharmaceutical companies. 

The impact of such governmental backing of just a few companies most certainly reinforces the market brand. The presenters didn’t do much reflection as to what they could have done better during the pandemic. Rather, industry and government collaboration on more advanced vaccines suggests the government will increasingly be involved in helping fund the few winners of the vaccine and drug development business.

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