2.5b people in Earth's 130 poorest countries have not been vaccinated. The 85 poorest countries won't be vaccinated until 2023. The humanitarian cost is unforgivable - and self-defeating, as each infected person is a potential source of new strains.
How the actual fuck did this happen?
What happened to the early pledges by governments, the WHO, public health experts and research institutes to create global cooperation in vaccine development, eschewing patents and secrecy so that we could rescue our species?
That dream was smashed.
Many people helped create our vaccine apartheid, the single individual who did the most to get us here is Bill Gates, through his highly ideological "philanthropic" foundation, which exists to push his pitiless doctrine of unfettered monopoly.
When we hear ghoul sellouts like Howard Dean pushing the racist, genocidal lie that "patents don't matter" because poor brown people can't make vaccines, we're hearing Gates's talking points:
Gates's role in vaccine apartheid is laid out in exquisite detail in Natalie Sure's outstanding New Republic feature, which delves into Gates's longstanding project to sideline democratic governments and cooperation in favor of monopoly tyranny.
This goes way, way back. I mean, *waaaay* back, all the way to 1976, when Gates wrote his infamous "Open Letter to Hobbyists," decrying the dominant, cooperative mode of software development and calling its practitioners thieves.
Gates's fortune depended on creating a software monopoly, and that monopoly required "intellectual property" protection.
Gates has always been a monopolist, and so naturally, he loves IP (before "IP" was a common term, copyrights and patents were called "monopolies").
Intellectual property is a very important part of the inequality story, the story of how we got to a world where billions of people are denied vaccines and where all people face new, more virulent strains as a result.
With Gates's help, the WTO emerged as IP enforcement powerhouse. Shure cites Dylan Mohan Gray: "it took Washington 40 years to threaten apartheid South Africa with sanctions and less than four to threaten the post-apartheid Mandela government over AIDS drugs."
Incredibly, Gates Foundation used this to burnish its humanitarian image: they solicited donations from pharma companies and used them to subsidize AIDS drugs in the global south, a maneuver that let them seem like philanthropists.
When in reality, they had overseen a program to systematically deny the world's poorest and most threatened people the right to make their own drugs, making them dependent on the whims of multinational corporate charity instead.
Sound familiar? Today, Gates runs around repeating the lie that poor people can't make their own medicine, saying that patent exemptions won't make a difference now - to the extent he's right, the world *now* is the crucial one.
Having sabotaged the efforts by poor countries to engage in the kind of production ramp-up the rich world saw as vaccines were being developed, it may *now* be too late. "Because of my bad ideas *then*, it's too late *now*."
The connection between IP and elite philanthropy is deep and important. IP's rent-seeking and tax-dodging has made poor countries beholden to offshore monopolists in health, agriculture and IT, and then starved them of taxes to build up domestic alternatives.
This in turn, makes them dependent on "gifts" from the billionaires who arm-twisted them into IP treaties, forced them to pay rent on all domestic production, and then profit-shifted the funds out of the reach of their tax-collectors.
As Anand Giridharadas reminded us in his seminal "Winners Take All," the core purpose of elite philanthropy has been the same since the robber-baron era: to burnish the reputations of monsters who take everything and give back crumbs.
Reading Jamie Love's quotes in Shure's article reminded me of my own time working with Jamie and Knowledge Ecology International at WIPO in Geneva, when I was an NGO delegate to a global DRM treaty.
You see, at WIPO, the vast majority of NGOs aren't human rights organizations or other public interest groups - they're industry associations representing tech, entertainment, broadcast and pharma monopolists.
So we started doing this too: we'd take careful notes on the day's debates, convene with global experts to debunk industry association lies, get our Indymedia friends to translate them into six languages, and hand them off to the secretariat in the morning for copying.
So they got the secretariat - a former US textiles negotiator who made her bones helping create the conditions for slave labor in places like Bangladesh - to end the practice of photocopying papers for all NGOs.
Of course the industry bodies had cushy offices in Geneva, whereas we stayed in flophouses and youth hostels. They could ask their underlings to come in early and do their copying for them, whereas we had to take a bus to the all-night copy-shop to get our handouts copied.
Here's where it gets super-weird: our handouts started to go missing.
We'd set out our stacks of paper on the literature tables before the morning session and an hour later, they'd all be gone, but none of the delegates had managed to get a copy.
We found those missing handouts...in the garbage, behind potted plants and in the *toilets*.
And here's the kicker: during the ensuing furore, the main response from the pharma lobbyists was to object to us calling ourselves "public interest NGOs."
I'll never forget this smarmy sociopath in his expensive suit, with his shit-eating grin, standing there saying, "Phamaceuticals serve the public interest, and our industry association is a nonprofit. We are a non-profit, public-interest NGO."
It was a remarkable sight. 20 years later, their version of the public interest - the doctrine of Gates - has produced a multi-billion-person reservoir of the sick and vulnerable who are doomed to serve as factories for highly virulent variants.
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