If You Think Coronavirus Profiteering Is Bad, Wait Till the Climate Heats Up
Even before coronavirus was a household name, the EPR estimated that between 385 and 725 million people worldwide will be exposed to infectious diseases as the climate crisis worsens. No wonder they find that “almost 70 percent of biotech, healthcare and pharma companies have climate change integrated into their business strategy.”
According to Morgan Stanley, $50 to $100 billion will be needed to produce vaccines alone in the coming years. Unfortunately, many pharmaceutical giants are investing in reducing access to these medications. Pfizer, J&J, and Merck Co. together spent over $19 billion in 2019 alone on lobbying efforts to keep prescription drug and health care costs high — and thus inaccessible to many vulnerable communities.
Indeed, like everything else in the U.S., the climate crisis doesn’t impact everyone equally. The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, concludes that the poor, people of color, the elderly, and children are most at risk from the health effects of pollution and climate change. And communities of color, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports, are most likely to be uninsured.
Rich or poor, Americans already spend more on medicine than any other people in the world. Numerous studies show that Medicare for All could reduce these costs while expanding coverage. So could investing in a “public option” for prescription drugs.
After all, taxpayers already heavily subsidize pharmaceutical development. One study published last year found that National Institute of Health (NIH) funding — that is, taxpayer money — “was associated directly or indirectly with every drug approved from 2010–2016.” If it’s our own tax money funding this business, why not make medicine production benefit the people who need those medicines the most?
Another recent study by the Democracy Collaborative imagines a publicly owned supply chain to produce needed medications — a “public option” for drugs. Publicly owned drug production, they find, would “combat the increasingly harmful impacts of Big Pharma which decades of regulation have failed to counteract,” from skyrocketing drug prices to the opioid epidemic.