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Does the amazing speed in which the Covid vaccine was developed (9 months) make a case that Big Pharma is a good thing?


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So it’s a simple question: during all the endless healthcare debates in our society (for ACA, against ACA, for Medicare for All, against Medicare for All, etc) Big Pharma has been criticized as a consistent villain, often by both sides. Progressives,  and even some conservatives,  have complained that this industry controls politicians, controls health care prices, has a lock on the marketplace, won’t allow us to fix healthcare, etc. Very little attention is given to their positive contributions to healthcare, such as all of the life saving medicines produced. In some discussions I’ve had on this subject in which I expressed the concern that socialized medicine and more restrictive controls on this industry might produce less innovation and cures in the future, it’s been asserted to me that scientists would develop those anyway out of a sense of altruism; the profit motive isn’t necessary. 
 

And now here we have an example of Big Pharma doing great work in real time. In less than 9 months, an amazing record, Pfizer and Moderna have developed vaccines for Covid which is going to save lives and frankly save our economy. Doesn’t this suggest that the positive outweighs the negative, and that Big Pharma is good for society after all? 

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2 minutes ago, timschochet said:

So it’s a simple question: during all the endless healthcare debates in our society (for ACA, against ACA, for Medicare for All, against Medicare for All, etc) Big Pharma has been criticized as a consistent villain, often by both sides. Progressives,  and even some conservatives,  have complained that this industry controls politicians, controls health care prices, has a lock on the marketplace, won’t allow us to fix healthcare, etc. Very little attention is given to their positive contributions to healthcare, such as all of the life saving medicines produced. In some discussions I’ve had on this subject in which I expressed the concern that socialized medicine and more restrictive controls on this industry might produce less innovation and cures in the future, it’s been asserted to me that scientists would develop those anyway out of a sense of altruism; the profit motive isn’t necessary. 
 

And now here we have an example of Big Pharma doing great work in real time. In less than 9 months, an amazing record, Pfizer and Moderna have developed vaccines for Covid which is going to save lives and frankly save our economy. Doesn’t this suggest that the positive outweighs the negative, and that Big Pharma is good for society after all? 

It's not an either or proposition.  The price gouging that takes place and the enormous profit margins enjoyed by those at the top are still problematic.  It's not as if those at the top were donating their salaries to develop these vaccines. 

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2 minutes ago, gianmarco said:

It's not an either or proposition.  The price gouging that takes place and the enormous profit margins enjoyed by those at the top are still problematic.  It's not as if those at the top were donating their salaries to develop these vaccines. 

Of course that’s all true. I’m simply suggesting that the positives outweigh the negatives. And maybe those at the top deserve those salaries? 

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7 minutes ago, gianmarco said:

It's not an either or proposition.  The price gouging that takes place and the enormous profit margins enjoyed by those at the top are still problematic.  It's not as if those at the top were donating their salaries to develop these vaccines. 

Did the companies that failed get money? I dont know how operation warp speed was set up. 

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2 minutes ago, parasaurolophus said:

Did the companies that failed get money? I dont know how operation warp speed was set up. 

My understanding is that Warp Speed is for the distribution of the vaccine after its been developed. I don’t know if taxpayer money was spent to develop a vaccine. 

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2 minutes ago, timschochet said:

My understanding is that Warp Speed is for the distribution of the vaccine after its been developed. I don’t know if taxpayer money was spent to develop a vaccine. 

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-09/pfizer-vaccine-s-funding-came-from-berlin-not-washington

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3 minutes ago, timschochet said:

My understanding is that Warp Speed is for the distribution of the vaccine after its been developed. I don’t know if taxpayer money was spent to develop a vaccine. 

This was from back in June...

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/govt-sink-billions-vaccine-prioritize-vulnerable-populations/story?id=71277918

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1 minute ago, Bamboo Bill said:

Thanks for this and the previous post. Obviously a defense of Big Pharma is not a defense of pure capitalism; they receive plenty of government money and IMO they should continue to do so, especially in times of emergency like now. 
What I’m actually defending here is neither capitalism or socialism but a continued partnership between government and corporations- in other words, the status quo which has produced so much prosperity in our society since the start of the New Deal. The status quo, which so many people on the left and right are so eager to attack, works. And it appears to have saved us again. 

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2 minutes ago, timschochet said:

Obviously a defense of Big Pharma is not a defense of pure capitalism; they receive plenty of government money and IMO they should continue to do so, especially in times of emergency like now. 

Agreed.  Big Pharma is to pure capitalism what the Kansas City Chiefs are to Major League Baseball.

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50 minutes ago, timschochet said:

So it’s a simple question: during all the endless healthcare debates in our society (for ACA, against ACA, for Medicare for All, against Medicare for All, etc) Big Pharma has been criticized as a consistent villain, often by both sides. Progressives,  and even some conservatives,  have complained that this industry controls politicians, controls health care prices, has a lock on the marketplace, won’t allow us to fix healthcare, etc. Very little attention is given to their positive contributions to healthcare, such as all of the life saving medicines produced. In some discussions I’ve had on this subject in which I expressed the concern that socialized medicine and more restrictive controls on this industry might produce less innovation and cures in the future, it’s been asserted to me that scientists would develop those anyway out of a sense of altruism; the profit motive isn’t necessary. 
 

And now here we have an example of Big Pharma doing great work in real time. In less than 9 months, an amazing record, Pfizer and Moderna have developed vaccines for Covid which is going to save lives and frankly save our economy. Doesn’t this suggest that the positive outweighs the negative, and that Big Pharma is good for society after all? 

Of course it is a good thing.    But rememeber $$$$$$ is a strong motivator.  A COVID vaccine when approved has a prediction of 100 billion in sales the first year and over 40 billion profit margin. 

Whatever they make off this vaccine is well earned.

After 1-2 years if they want to limit profit on this that is OK too.  Just save the world first.

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2 minutes ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

For purposes of this exercise are we supposed to assume that vaccines and drugs could not be developed without Big Pharma?

I would argue that the speed and efficiency, and yes perhaps even the vaccine itself, would not have been possible without Big Pharma and the profit motive. But you don’t have to share that assumption. 

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This can be A good thing and all the other things we know also be bad.  So as worded, I'd say "yes".

To be honest though, I think an even better discussion is around the concept of "socialism".  All these vaccines and their production are built on the back of heavy government funding in the research and then a ton of government funding to the private companies who will produce and then huge government funding into distribution.  

We all know that actual "socialism" in the original definition is long gone, but this event is probably one of the events that will ever approach getting close to that definition in our lifetimes. 

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6 minutes ago, The Commish said:

This can be A good thing and all the other things we know also be bad.  So as worded, I'd say "yes".

To be honest though, I think an even better discussion is around the concept of "socialism".  All these vaccines and their production are built on the back of heavy government funding in the research and then a ton of government funding to the private companies who will produce and then huge government funding into distribution.  

We all know that actual "socialism" in the original definition is long gone, but this event is probably one of the events that will ever approach getting close to that definition in our lifetimes. 

What you’re describing is not socialism. Socialism in terms of the vaccine would be the government itself producing the vaccine. 

This is an example of capitalism aided by government- as I wrote its the liberal, not leftist, approach to our system since the New Deal. 

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no. when Pharma is 80% research/20% marketing again, as it was before finance jumped in for the moneysuck and flipped the ratio to 20%/80%, then it's a good thing. its size has little to do with mobilization of the kind necessary for large, emergency projects like this

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37 minutes ago, timschochet said:
41 minutes ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

For purposes of this exercise are we supposed to assume that vaccines and drugs could not be developed without Big Pharma?

I would argue that the speed and efficiency, and yes perhaps even the vaccine itself, would not have been possible without Big Pharma and the profit motive. But you don’t have to share that assumption. 

Right, so you are assuming your conclusion.  You already thought that the Big Pharma was great.  Then when there’s a vaccine, you take that piece of information to be support for the conclusion you already had.  But you have no idea what the result would be if we treated pharmaceutical companies the way that Bernie Sanders wants to treat them, for example.  The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines shed no light on that question, which is supposedly the discussion we’re supposed to be having in this thread.

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7 minutes ago, fatguyinalittlecoat said:

Right, so you are assuming your conclusion.  You already thought that the Big Pharma was great.  Then when there’s a vaccine, you take that piece of information to be support for the conclusion you already had.  But you have no idea what the result would be if we treated pharmaceutical companies the way that Bernie Sanders wants to treat them, for example.  The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines shed no light on that question, which is supposedly the discussion we’re supposed to be having in this thread.

You’re right. I am assuming my conclusion. I’d like to think that I’m intellectually honest enough that I’d reach the opposite conclusion if things didn’t work out the same way. I can’t, however, guarantee that. 
I disagree with your last sentence, obviously. I think the vaccines DO shed light on that question. They demonstrate, in real time, why the current system works. I think it’s quite reasonable to assume that Bernie’s plan would have a detrimental effect on that system. 

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22 minutes ago, wikkidpissah said:

no. when Pharma is 80% research/20% marketing again, as it was before finance jumped in for the moneysuck and flipped the ratio to 20%/80%, then it's a good thing. its size has little to do with mobilization of the kind necessary for large, emergency projects like this

Do you have a link that the current ratio is 80% in the other direction? 

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1 minute ago, timschochet said:

Do you have a link that the current ratio is 80% in the other direction? 

no. just turn on your TV and see the 87 consecutive adds for Schochetryc for painful rectal itch patients being able to have picnics again even tho it may cause drowsiness, throbbin' bidness and gullibility

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45 minutes ago, timschochet said:

What you’re describing is not socialism. Socialism in terms of the vaccine would be the government itself producing the vaccine. 

This is an example of capitalism aided by government- as I wrote its the liberal, not leftist, approach to our system since the New Deal. 

I know it's not....I said it's the CLOSEST thing we'll probably ever see in our lifetimes.  And it is BY FAR more "socialist" than any of the items I've seen labeled around these parts as "socialist".  

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5 minutes ago, wikkidpissah said:

no. just turn on your TV and see the 87 consecutive adds for Schochetryc for painful rectal itch patients being able to have picnics again even tho it may cause drowsiness, throbbin' bidness and gullibility

Is it possible that the vast amount of money earned from those tv commercials contributes to the development of a Covid vaccine in 9 months? 

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And I think we need to be clear on who's doing what here.  Our government is putting huge amounts of money into the scientific research, propping up the companies to produce them (even before the most viable have been determined), throwing tons of cash at distribution.  FG presents a good point on it's own, but "speed and efficiency" here seems to be driven by the dollars from our government.  If our government wasn't involved at all, would we be where we're at?  If the answer is yes, how do you know?

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And I'll just throw out the obvious reality that a good bit of the "speed" has been achieved by cutting through or eliminating a lot of the process we typically go through and what's typically required in terms of safety around side affects and/or unforeseen negative impacts.  

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19 minutes ago, timschochet said:

You’re right. I am assuming my conclusion. I’d like to think that I’m intellectually honest enough that I’d reach the opposite conclusion if things didn’t work out the same way. I can’t, however, guarantee that. 
I disagree with your last sentence, obviously. I think the vaccines DO shed light on that question. They demonstrate, in real time, why the current system works. I think it’s quite reasonable to assume that Bernie’s plan would have a detrimental effect on that system. 

Are you clear on what is meant by the first bolded?  It's a logical fallacy, and you committed it multiple times in just this post.

The second bolded makes no sense at all.  It is conceivable that alternate systems (pure capitalism with no government funding to big pharma, or pure socialist pharma) would lead to better outcomes.  That existing structure X leads to outcome Y is not, by any possible logical construct, proof that Y is the best possible outcome, and therefore X is the best possible structure.

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13 minutes ago, Rich Conway said:

Are you clear on what is meant by the first bolded?  It's a logical fallacy, and you committed it multiple times in just this post.

The second bolded makes no sense at all.  It is conceivable that alternate systems (pure capitalism with no government funding to big pharma, or pure socialist pharma) would lead to better outcomes.  That existing structure X leads to outcome Y is not, by any possible logical construct, proof that Y is the best possible outcome, and therefore X is the best possible structure.

Gotta go to work. I will respond to this later 

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1 hour ago, timschochet said:

I would argue that the speed and efficiency, and yes perhaps even the vaccine itself, would not have been possible without Big Pharma and the profit motive. But you don’t have to share that assumption. 

In many ways it's like the defense industrial complex. The government helps keep the factories producing vehicles, missiles, bullets, etc and provides funding for research and development, partly so that in case a war breaks out, we're prepared to fight it. 

Obviously there are differences, and fighting a virus isn't the same as fighting a nation or terrorists. but the basic concept (keep and enhance production capability in case it's needed) is similar. 

 

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38 minutes ago, timschochet said:

You’re right. I am assuming my conclusion. I’d like to think that I’m intellectually honest enough that I’d reach the opposite conclusion if things didn’t work out the same way. I can’t, however, guarantee that. 
I disagree with your last sentence, obviously. I think the vaccines DO shed light on that question. They demonstrate, in real time, why the current system works. I think it’s quite reasonable to assume that Bernie’s plan would have a detrimental effect on that system. 

I'm not fully up to speed on Bernie's plan, but if it's basically that the government will pay instead of private insurers, I'm not fully buying into the last sentence.

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36 minutes ago, timschochet said:
59 minutes ago, wikkidpissah said:

no. when Pharma is 80% research/20% marketing again, as it was before finance jumped in for the moneysuck and flipped the ratio to 20%/80%, then it's a good thing. its size has little to do with mobilization of the kind necessary for large, emergency projects like this

Do you have a link that the current ratio is 80% in the other direction? 

In 2019, pharmaceutical companies spent about $186B on R&D and $30B on marketing.

 

(source ars technica, statistica.com)

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9 minutes ago, Chicago Hooligan said:
Quote

@NPR

Nov 17

A judge approved a controversial $8.3 billion settlement between the Justice Dept. and Purdue Pharma over its marketing of Oxycontin and other addictive opioids. Under the deal, the Sackler family will admit no wrongdoing and face no criminal charges.

This is a massive pet peeve of mine.  It is not acceptable for government to knowingly allow corporations to profit from illegal and harmful activities.  Specifically, allowing a corporation (or individual or any organization) to make billions through fraud or illegal activities, then settling with them for a small portion of that amount only encourages future corporations to do the same thing, as they know that conducting such activities is profitable and without risk.

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24 minutes ago, The Commish said:

And I'll just throw out the obvious reality that a good bit of the "speed" has been achieved by cutting through or eliminating a lot of the process we typically go through and what's typically required in terms of safety around side affects and/or unforeseen negative impacts.  

They also had the benefit of past work done on other coronaviruses that was particularly helpful forshortening phase one, acc to a doctor I was listening to this morning.

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Does the ability to have the means, resources, established process and protocols, leading scientific R&D minds, the long experience with mRNA-based vaccines, the ability to hold large-scale trials that are the most part hardened, with oversight from governmental bodies around safety, efficacy, standards, etc. mean that Big Pharma is good?

I mean, nature abhors a vacuum and if it wasn't Big Pharma I am sure others in the medical and scientific community would work towards a solution, but it wouldn't be fast given the lack of resources. 

So by this measure, absolutely Big Pharma drives enormous benefits -- in this and other R&D that leads to meaningful vaccines and medicine that literally saves lives.

Does the profit motive, the artificial price hiking, the way they incent doctors to prescribe drugs, pushing vast overmedication, not making needed drugs affordable, the patent plays, hiding the true cost of development, and all the other nefarious things you can attribute to Big Pharma bad?

Undeniably.

So the answer is, as with most things, not clear-cut as to a single instance of creating a COVID vaccine rapidly suddenly making Big Pharma "good." Answer is always in between.

My own personal view is that Big Pharma skews more bad than good -- but I don't deny there's a lot of good behind what they do as well.

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4 hours ago, timschochet said:
4 hours ago, Rich Conway said:

Are you clear on what is meant by the first bolded?  It's a logical fallacy, and you committed it multiple times in just this post.

The second bolded makes no sense at all.  It is conceivable that alternate systems (pure capitalism with no government funding to big pharma, or pure socialist pharma) would lead to better outcomes.  That existing structure X leads to outcome Y is not, by any possible logical construct, proof that Y is the best possible outcome, and therefore X is the best possible structure.

Gotta go to work. I will respond to this later

Fair enough.  Looks like the search function is currently broken, so I can't find it, but I think you still owe an expanded answer on the California referendum regarding delayed property tax recalculation, too?

In any case, the thing here is that you appear to making the following argument:
1. Outcome Y (fact vaccine) is the optimal outcome
2. Structure X enabled Outcome Y
3. Therefore, Structure X is the optimal structure

The argument above contains so many logical fallacies it's hard to know where to start, but...
A. You haven't proven that Outcome Y is optimal.  That is, absent evidence otherwise, it's possible that another Outcome Z would have been preferable.  I'll present a possible better outcome specific to this particular situation below.
B. Even if we accept that Outcome Y is optimal, you haven't proven that Structure X is the only possible structure that enables Outcome Y.  That is, absent evidence otherwise, it's possible that Structure P or Structure Q could also have enabled Outcome Y.
C. More specific to this particular situation (and leaning on @Stompin' Tom Connors post above), Outcome Y is not the only outcome from Structure X.  That is, there are lots of "outcomes" that come from Structure X, including "speed to develop a vaccine", "price of drugs", "motive for unethical behavior (see: opioid crisis or overmedication in general)", "patent issues", etc.  Even if Outcome Y is optimal in the category of "vaccine speed", you haven't proven that the benefit of Outcome Y is worth the simultaneous costs of Outcomes A, B, and C that are also enabled by Structure X.

As an example for A. above, I can conceive of a situation where a vaccine for COVID-19 was developed much faster.  We already know that the science for this vaccine leaned on previous research for SARS and MERS, even though those vaccines were never completed, primarily due to funding drying up when those diseases were largely eradicated, as there would be little profit in a vaccine for a disease that no longer exists.  Let's pretend that all vaccine research were funded and performed by the government.  In such a situation, government might not have stopped R&D into "general coronavirus vaccines", especially after the second one, under the premise that additional, potentially similar, coronaviruses would occur in the future.  Had additional research into general coronavirus vaccines continued, and successful vaccines been developed for SARS and MERS, do you think that the time to create a COVID-19 vaccine would have been shortened?

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7 hours ago, timschochet said:

Of course that’s all true. I’m simply suggesting that the positives outweigh the negatives. And maybe those at the top deserve those salaries? 

My experience is that there are typically people working below them that drive the production/outcomes.  And those in suits often just create headaches in the name of $$.

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@Rich Conway sorry about the delay in response. But I think you drew some conclusions that I didn’t make. I am arguing that the covid vaccine might mean that Big Pharma is good but I am not suggesting that it is a logical proof; real life matters can rarely be simplified into such a formula. As many people here have pointed out there are both good things and bad things about big Pharma. In my opinion the vaccines and medical treatments that are developed, in particular in this instance the covid vaccine, are the good and IMO the good outweighs the bad. But that’s not a conclusion on the level of a mathematical proof, it’s a conclusion based on subjective opinion (mine) based on the fact that I value the positive elements more. 
Prop 15 in California failed, thankfully, which surprised me. I apologize I can’t recall your specific question about it. 

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German company BioNTech actually developed the mRNA technology used to create the COVID vaccine, and they partnered with Pfizer to test candidate vaccines, ultimately choosing BNT162b2 over others. Big pharma has the funds to partner with young companies to test promising new therapies, using FDA and European rigorous standards, and to market them when successful. Most of the credit for developing the vaccine itself goes to BioNTech, which was founded in 2012, by a husband-wife team with Turkish roots. And the head of Pfizer is a Greek immigrant. 

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7 hours ago, timschochet said:

@Rich Conway sorry about the delay in response. But I think you drew some conclusions that I didn’t make. I am arguing that the covid vaccine might mean that Big Pharma is good but I am not suggesting that it is a logical proof; real life matters can rarely be simplified into such a formula. As many people here have pointed out there are both good things and bad things about big Pharma. In my opinion the vaccines and medical treatments that are developed, in particular in this instance the covid vaccine, are the good and IMO the good outweighs the bad. But that’s not a conclusion on the level of a mathematical proof, it’s a conclusion based on subjective opinion (mine) based on the fact that I value the positive elements more. 
Prop 15 in California failed, thankfully, which surprised me. I apologize I can’t recall your specific question about it. 

I get that you're offering an opinion on good and bad, but it still seems to me that you're skipping over the part where the outcome could have been better.  I offered an example above showing how government-run pharma could easily have resulted in a swifter vaccine path.

My original question about prop 151 was a general one.  I was curious what it said, what the arguments were for and against.  I majored in econ and math, so taxation questions often interest me.

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2 hours ago, Rich Conway said:

I offered an example above showing how government-run pharma could easily have resulted in a swifter vaccine path.

The FDA and CDC blocked widespread covid testing in the US for as long as possible.  Even now, at-home covid tests -- which amazingly are still not widely available -- will require a prescription, for some reason known only to God.  One the vaccine front, the FDA can't even be bothered to rule on Phizer's EUA until mid-December, after tens of thousands of more people die.

In some alternate universe where government officials were making competent decisions appropriate to the public health crisis before us, I'd agree with you that there's nothing stopping a government from producing a covid vaccine.  In the world that we actually inhabit, however, that was never happening. 

Edit: Also, while the FDA and CDC are incompetent, neither agency is actively malicious.  If we're going to base policy recommendations on imaginary scenarios involving different government actors, then we also need to factor in what happens when government agencies are run by people who are deliberately bad.  Unfortunately, this isn't some wild hypothetical.  Our outgoing policymakers have consciously chosen to make the covid epidemic worse, and many of us (me included) live in states with governors who are also making the epidemic worse.  At least soulless corporate CEOs have a strong incentive to make a good vaccine as quickly as possible even if they personally are pro-covid.  The same can't be said for elected officials. 

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25 minutes ago, IvanKaramazov said:

The FDA and CDC blocked widespread covid testing in the US for as long as possible.  Even now, at-home covid tests -- which amazingly are still not widely available -- will require a prescription, for some reason known only to God.  One the vaccine front, the FDA can't even be bothered to rule on Phizer's EUA until mid-December, after tens of thousands of more people die.

In some alternate universe where government officials were making competent decisions appropriate to the public health crisis before us, I'd agree with you that there's nothing stopping a government from producing a covid vaccine.  In the world that we actually inhabit, however, that was never happening. 

Edit: Also, while the FDA and CDC are incompetent, neither agency is actively malicious.  If we're going to base policy recommendations on imaginary scenarios involving different government actors, then we also need to factor in what happens when government agencies are run by people who are deliberately bad.  Unfortunately, this isn't some wild hypothetical.  Our outgoing policymakers have consciously chosen to make the covid epidemic worse, and many of us (me included) live in states with governors who are also making the epidemic worse.  At least soulless corporate CEOs have a strong incentive to make a good vaccine as quickly as possible even if they personally are pro-covid.  The same can't be said for elected officials. 

All of this is true, of course.  As you point out, it's not fair to compare "our existing world with Pharma as is" to "alternate universe where government is perfectly competent".

However, it's also not reasonable to compare "worst possible government that has existed only for the past four years" to "cherry-picked positives of existing Pharma world", which was more in line with my original point.  That is, we know there are also people making actively malicious decisions in the "current Pharma world" as well (see recent opioid crisis).

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22 hours ago, gianmarco said:

It's not an either or proposition.  The price gouging that takes place and the enormous profit margins enjoyed by those at the top are still problematic.  It's not as if those at the top were donating their salaries to develop these vaccines. 

Exactly, it’s like almost everything. There’s good and bad and we need to embrace the good while working to improve the negative aspects. 

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The amazing speed also depended on enrolling people who would eventually be exposed and get COVID. With the expectation that those in the placebo group would get COVID at a higher rate. That's why the Pfizer could enroll large number of participants from the USA, while China had to enroll lots of people from other countries and Chinese citizens who were traveling to other countries. China's COVID positive  rate was near zero, so few study participants would even be exposed to COVID.

With the high positive rate in the USA and elsewhere, Pfizer and Moderna should be able to add more confidence to that 95% effective rate very soon.

I'm not sure how having a large pool of people likely to be exposed to COVID compares to prior vaccine development cycles. 

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