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Lowry: Profit least of COVID-19 problems

 

March 22, 2020



A specter haunts progressive America — the possibility that a company might make too much money solving the world’s coronavirus problem.

At the last Democratic debate Bernie Sanders called the leaders of the pharmaceutical industry “a bunch of crooks,” who are telling themselves in the midst of the epidemic, “Wow, what an opportunity to make a fortune.”

Op-eds have sprung up warning, “Drug Companies Will Make a Killing From Coronavirus” (The New York Times) and “How Big Pharma Will Profit From the Coronavirus” (The Intercept).

This would seem the least of our problems right now, but the pharmaceutical industry is such a boogeyman that it gets roundly attacked even while racing to provide a boon to public health.

Bernie’s view that drug company executives are “crooks” betrays his Marxoid belief that profit is a form of theft. Of course, even people who aren’t socialists are scourges of the industry. Pharma brought much of this on itself with the opioid debacle. Yet these companies routinely create medical miracles.

Yes, they make money doing it, but the profit motive is the reason why they exist in the first place. There’s a reason we introduce more new therapies than any country in the world.

When faced with what’s been called a once-in-a-generation pathogen, would we rather have a robust commercial drug industry or not? Brilliant, creative people scattered throughout companies and universities working to be the first to a solution or not? Investors looking to back promising research or not?

If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” you are probably a socialist, a populist firing at the wrong targets or someone incapable of doing basic cost-benefit calculations.

As Chris Pope of the Manhattan Institute notes, if a new drug — even an expensive one — obviates hospital stays and physician care, it can reduce healthcare costs over time.

Consider the current crisis. The costs of the “medieval” methods we are using to try to control the coronavirus virus are unimaginably high — shutting down swaths of the economy and throwing millions of people out of work. Gross domestic product could drop 10% or more this quarter.

What would we pay for a vaccine to render all this needless? Even if it were a trillion dollars, the price of the Trump-proposed stimulus package, it would be a bargain.

It is a marvel that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is already working with a Massachusetts company, Moderna, on a vaccine trial. This is a model of public-private cooperation. Anyone who would want to subtract Moderna from the process because it stands to profit is an ideological zealot heedless of public health.

Rich Lowry can be reached at:

[email protected]

 
 

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