Covid Vaccine Blues

By Alex Jack

Whether you have been vaccinated against Covid, ruled it out, or are still on the fence, the integrity of the pharmaceutical companies and their vaccine rollout remains an issue.

Inoculation was used traditionally for centuries in Africa and Asia and in the nineteenth and twentieth-century spread widely in the industrializing world. Today’s vaccines, like other medicines and foods, are very different from those that many of us grew up within childhood or early adulthood. They are high-tech, often genetically engineered, and produced by pharmaceutical companies that are among the most greedy, corrupt, and ethically challenged on the planet.

Pfizer, the maker of one of the major Covid vaccines, paid $2.3 billion in 2009 to settle criminal and civil liabilities for fraudulently promoting Bextra, an anti-inflammatory drug, the anti-psychotic drug Geodon, the antibiotic Zyvox, and the anti-epileptic drug Lyrica. Kickbacks were paid to healthcare providers for prescribing these drugs to patients for off-label use, and false claims were submitted to government healthcare programs, including Medicare.

Another serial abuser, Johnson & Johnson, maker of the one-shot Covid vaccine, paid $1.72 billion in fines in 2013 after being found criminally guilty for fraudulently marketing the anti-psychotic drugs Risperdal and Invega and the heart failure drug Natecor to elderly patients with dementia.

Did J&J learn its lesson? Hardly. In 2018, a St. Louis jury ordered it to pay $4.7 billion to 22 women and their families who said the company’s baby powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. Since, 1971, it was later revealed, company executives knew that the product tested positive for asbestos, a known carcinogen, yet failed to disclose it to regulators or the public. Sixteen thousand talc-related lawsuits were lined up on the runway waiting for the jury’s decision. Despite strike two from the American judiciary, J&J was back in court in 2019 for covering up deadly bleeding episodes of the anticoagulant drug Xarelto and with codefendant Bayer paid $775 million to 25,000 patients.

For Big Pharma, lawsuits like these are simply the cost of doing business, as the current opioid crisis and the well-publicized predatory practices of the industry further attest. (J&J, by the way, is also one of the big four companies indicted in the opioid crisis. In 2020, a record 87,000 Americans died from this epidemic.) Naturally, the first thing the companies did after being convicted of criminal behavior and facing a $26 billion settlement, according to the Wall Street Journal, was to figure out a way to deduct their massive fines from their taxes.

As for suing any of these companies for adverse effects related to vaccination, forget about it. Congress last year shielded Covid vaccine manufacturers from all liability. Federal lawmakers also decided that those injured will not have access to the U.S. Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (also known as the “vaccine court”) that was established for major injuries or death arising from inoculation. Prior to the pandemic, over $4 billion has quietly been paid for over four thousand claims related to influenza shots and for vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and autism.

In a society that accepts thousands of civilian deaths by drone as “collateral damage,” refuses to ban land mines, and allows a quarter million young people to be exposed to gun violence at school without any meaningful national gun control legislation, the toll from vaccines is easy to dismiss as insignificant. Stalin got it right: “The death of one person is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

Vaccine Nationalism    Even more scandalous than the vaccine companies’ legacy of criminality is their refusal to share potentially life-saving technology to poor countries in the midst of a pandemic. The World Health Organization has pled with J&J, Pfizer, Moderna, and the other pharmaceutical giants to share their technical know-how with India, Africa, and other developing regions.

WHO condemned their decision to refuse to participate in its COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and withhold patents and licensing. A spokesperson told the Washington Post, “The entire population and global economy are in crisis because of that approach and vaccines nationalism.” To date, noted UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, 10 wealthy countries have administered 70% of vaccine doses, while 130 countries have not received a single dose.

Lack of cooperation by vaccine manufacturers has left entire continents vulnerable to new Covid variants that could then spread to vaccinated regions. Yet heath agencies and pharmaceutical companies in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other countries report that the vaccine companies won’t even take their calls. The chief executive of Pfizer dismissed sharing their IP (intellectual property) as “nonsense.” The new World Trade Organization President Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said it was “not acceptable” for poor countries to be left “at the end of the queue.” South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa called the refusal “vaccine apartheid,” because the burden falls primarily on communities of color.

Britain’s AstraZeneca, which priced its vaccine for only $2.15 per dose, is an exception to the avaricious norm and has engaged in deals to transfer technology to developing countries. However, its vaccine has come under scrutiny for exaggerated claims. It has also been linked with fatal blood clots in dozens of recipients, causing many European countries to suspend it. (The J&J vaccine was paused for similar reasons in the U.S.) Unlike the Western bloc, Russia and China have actively wooed foreign countries with their vaccines. But this spring both Moscow’s Sputnik V and Beijing’s CoronaVac have had major manufacturing problems or performed poorly.

As the vaccines are rolled out, we are constantly bombarded by well-meaning physicians, politicians, and pastors exhorting us to get our shots, if not for our own protection, for that of society. It would seem that this concern could also be directed—and multiplied a million or billionfold—at the vaccine makers and the governments that bankroll them. Their refusal to share potentially life-saving technology with the entire planet and prevent the emergence of new variants imperils us all.          

Their arrogance creates suspicion that their real goal is not to end the pandemic, but to ensure the emergence of new variants so they can develop new Covid booster shots every year for billions of people. Preventing future epidemics depends on holding the pharmaceutical industry to account and awakening to the benefits of a sustainable, whole foods diet and lifestyle that strengthen our natural immunity to disease.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg explains that she will not get the vaccine until it is made available to poor countries

Speaking out against vaccine nationalism, Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate change activist, announced this spring that she would not get vaccinated against Covid or attend a major environmental conference until the represent-tatives from all the other countries in the world could participate “on equal terms.” Her example reflects the bodhisattva, or spiritual, tradition of declining special privileges or advantages denied others and is cause for deep self-reflection and concerted action to create a fairer and more just society.

According to Bloomberg News, U.S. taxpayers have already spent $18 billion on Covid vaccine manufacture, and the companies project multibillion-dollar profits this year. The explosion this spring of Covid in India, which manufactures vaccines for the wealthy countries but had little for its own population, underlines the folly of this approach. In early May, President Biden finally came out in favor of waivers to transfer vaccine technology to poorer countries.

“The WHO nearly doubled its recommendations on eating fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as whole grains and beans, to maintain strong immune function and protect against  Covid.”

Diet & Covid

Several recent scientific studies and medical reports suggest that nutrition can play a role in preventing or relieving Covid. A study conducted at the University of Campinas in Brazil and published this spring in the journal Gut Microbes found that a high-fiber diet may control the inflammation associated with Covid. Scientists reported that the fermentation of insoluble fiber from dietary plant matter reduced the expression of a gene that plays a key role in viral cell entry and a cytokine receptor that favors inflammation.

Up to 50% of Covid patients experience gastrointestinal symptoms resulting in alterations to their normal functions, the researchers observed. In addition, recent studies point to major changes in patients’ gut microbiota, including a decrease in levels of bacteria that secrete short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) by fermenting dietary fiber. SCFAs are important to colon health and maintenance of intestinal barrier integrity.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) nearly doubled its recommendations on eating fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as upped whole grains and beans, to maintain a strong immune function and protect against Covid. Current recommendations to take 5 servings a day of fresh vegetables and fruits were increased to 9 servings. The WHO also recommended higher intake of whole grains and beans to optimize nutrition and reduce risk of infection during the crisis.

A recent article in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome noted, “Diet associated NCDs [non-communicable diseases] are a major public health challenge, especially in developing countries, accounting for nearly 70% of total mortality. Deterioration of dietary habits during this lockdown period has a major impact on the health system of developing countries by worsening NCDs on top of the Covid-19. It is time to strengthen national programs which can decrease diet insecurity and imbalances.”

Alex Jack is director of Planetary Health, Inc. and co-author of Strengthening Natural Immunity.

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