In the 1970s, a growing number of reports began circulating about a virus that was largely unknown prior and caused a severe immunodeficiency in those infected by it. The disease, which is believed to have originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo as long ago as the 1920s, had taken until 1980 to reach five continents. Concerns began rising in 1981 when reports of other diseases such as cancer and lung disease began to rise, particularly among otherwise healthy men. Specifically, gay men.
Before the end of the year, 270 gay men reported severe immunodeficiency, and 121 of them died.
The mystery cancer
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) attacks the immune system and can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) which can lead to death, usually because of a failed immune system leaving opportunity for other diseases.
This became a hot button issue through the eighties, and one of the main topics of the socially relevant, not very funny moments in various sitcoms or teen dramas. By some it was described as the "Gay Cancer" including by Tom Hanks' coworkers and bosses in the hit movie Philadelphia. The association with a type of person who people did not understand lead to crushing stigmas, and falsities about HIV caused harm as well.
AIDS is in every home
It was 1990 when a young kid from Indiana named Ryan White died of AIDS due to contracting HIV from a blood transfusion. His story was in every home; on every TV and in countless magazine articles. The late 80s and 90s was fraught with misinformation and the fight for the humane treatment of HIV victims, including for Ryan's right to go to School without being shamed or shunned.
By 1995 the FDA had approved a treatment known as a highly active antiviral treatment or HAART. This treatment brought a decline of upwards of 60% of the hospitalizations and deaths. Two years later, the FDA approved an even more manageable treatment in the form of a basic pill. In 2000, the prices were able to be lowered to benefit poorer nations dealing with AIDS epidemics.
Unless you are reading this blog on a printout, delivered to your remote village by special courier, you certainly know that we have recently encountered a global pandemic, much greater in scale than the HIV epidemic. As you dredge through all the recent slog about healthcare treatments, vaccines, efficacy and many other big words, it is likely that you will fall into bouts of skepticism, anger and a general distaste for the people in power in our society.
We all know you cannot trust "the man". While we don't know who he is, we know he has created vaccines.
Roughly 51% of the United States has not been vaccinated for Covid 19, largely because many do not trust Big Pharma. There is a particular distrust in vaccines in general, but especially the COVID vaccines. Why is this?
Lots of reasons. And yes, Mr or Mrs. Vaccine Advocate, there are many good reasons.
The power of incentives
Consider this. People are largely motivated by incentives. If you are able to make a living, you are able to keep doing something, but if there is an opportunity for profit, you can invest even more into the opportunity at hand. This is of course the case for businesses like pharmaceutical companies. Profit opportunities allow investors to build businesses with jobs, contractors, suppliers, a lengthy P&L sheet and ultimately bonuses for the shareholders. This is a key feature of capitalism. Businesses do what makes money. It is challenging to do what does not make money.
It's not surprising that people lack trust in Big Pharma. The pharmaceutical industry is the most loathed industry in the country. It costs billions of dollars to create new drugs and therapeutics, and meanwhile heart disease and diabetes are on the rise. It's the pharmaceutical companies are making a lot of money off of it by providing lifelong treatments for chronic disease. There is no incentive to invest in changing that. No incentive to cure or prevent chronic disease.
The reason you cannot trust Big Pharma is because of capitalism.
Definition: Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
Capitalism allows companies the freedom to invest in what brings the greatest return. It incentivizes them to invest in those things that create profit. It disincentivizes investment in those things which may decrease their profit, like preventing disease.
You have reason to be skeptical of Big Pharma, because they exist to make a profit. The "Big Eff" will do what makes them the most money.
Of course that doesn't mean that there are not many good things that have come from for profit enterprise, including the pharmaceutical industry. Most of us benefit from its advancements every day. According to health studies, many of us use NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) over the counter in addition to prescription forms of the drug. It also happens to be common to use more than the recommended dose, and largely, people consider them safe. With that said, the known side affects of oral ibuprofen are upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, drowsiness, easy bruising or bleeding, hearing changes, mental or mood changes, unexplained stiff neck, signs of kidney problems, vision changes, symptoms of heart failure, unusual tiredness, and sudden weight gain. I can understand if someone was concerned to take a medicine with those sorts of risks.
The vaccines developed to address Covid 19, based on mRNA are often met with criticism for the speed at which they have come to market, however the technology is not new, rushed, or untested medical intervention. The mRNA technology is 30 years in the making, but the funding for the additional studies and testing was frequently shut down, in trade for something more profitable. Katalin Karikó, the Hungarian born scientist behind a key mRNA discovery faced rejection after rejection when she was trying to bring the innovation to fore to fight disease. The Pandemic has breathed new life into mRNA and opened up funding opportunities, and international urgency to fund the final development of the Covid 19 vaccines. The statistics tell us they have already saved millions of lives. The technology may help prevent far more than Covid 19, because of the innovative technology upon which it is based. In fact, I highly recommend you watch this video about it.
It is of note that the biggest advocates for capitalism are sometimes the loudest voices against its outcomes. This is at least the case when it comes to Covid 19 Vaccinations, where vaccination rates fall along party lines (by a large margin).
The perfect partnership
In a perfect world, the capitalist private sector and the socially funded public sector, and the charitably funded non-profit sector will work together to solve big problems. This is why nonprofits and government funding are created – to fund those things which are challenging to fund with pure capitalism. This creates a mutually beneficial, but mutually accountable position where one party is driving profit and efficiency, and another is driving a mission of public good, and hopefully outcomes.
Today, access to treatments for HIV has become widespread, to the point where 59% of those living with HIV are virally suppressed, meaning they are healthy and unlikely to spread the virus. So also has the stigma associated with the disease decreased because of public education, and countless grainy commercials in the 80s and 90s. This is thanks to the partnerships between public, private and charitable organizations, including commitments from pharmaceutical companies, The World Health Organization and many governments including the largest Government funder, the USA.
This is also what has happened in response to a global pandemic in 2020.