Will another Dr. Jonas Salk bring an end to this Covid pandemic? Have people not known or have forgotten what living in a polio epidemic was like? Let me remind you. A lifetime of paralysis, iron lung living or death were proximate outcomes for everyone. Children learned early the meaning of the big word, “quarantine.” 

In those days, children got measles, mumps, whooping cough and polio and were confined to indoors for two weeks. Children learned quarantine; parents learned fear.

Dr. Salk became a national hero for his invention of the polio vaccine. All ages, men, women, babies and children rushed to the Vets Memorial Building here in Hollister to get the vaccine. The threat of disease accompanied by demand for vaccine outpaced documentation. When Dr. Salk was questioned about the likelihood of a patent, he responded smiling humbly, “Can you patent the sun?”

Instead of a Jonas Salk we had groups of Salks working in government funded research centers like the NIH (National Institute of Health) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and universities supported by taxes. Pharmaceutical companies purchased the technology, researched the vaccine stability to produce the Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccine concept of mRNA was a product of years of government research in gene sequencing, splicing and molecular engineering.

Currently, the vaccine is free for us because our government purchased supplies for us. Pharmaceutical companies make and continue to profit from selling to other countries. Because of high demand, profit is high. The problem is that worldwide demand exceeds the production capacity of three companies like Pfizer/BionTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. These companies could act right now with Dr. Salk urgency.

They could sell licenses to other companies with vaccine production capabilities and still make a profit, for instance to the country of India. We must remember that India already makes 80% of our prescription drugs. They and other countries with production capacity clamor for enough vaccine to end this pandemic.

This is our moment now. Do we let the rest of the world die because of patents? We now can actually choose morality over the dollar. Do we allow pharmaceutical giants to misbehave or do we insist their CEOs behave as caring human beings? 

Problem is, they are trying to “patent the sun,” rather than trying to save lives.

Mary Zanger, Retired Pharmacist


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