Is the Shine Starting to Come Off Bill Gates’s Halo?
The billionaire’s role in perpetuating vaccine apartheid in the name of protecting intellectual property rights has begun to draw criticism.
The announcement earlier this week of Bill and Melinda Gates’s divorce was a bombshell headline, but it shouldn’t distract us from an even more interesting development in the news media in recent weeks. Bill Gates, long heralded as a global hero in the pandemic response, is becoming an increasingly popular target of criticism for his role in the unfolding vaccine apartheid around the world.
News outlets from Salon to the Observer to The New Republic have taken aim at Gates’s efforts to defend Big Pharma’s monopoly controls over Covid vaccines—even in the face of growing humanitarian calls to suspend patents and to compel these companies to share the recipes and technological know-how needed to expand vaccine production and immunize the poor.
The reporting has highlighted the former Microsoft CEO’s hard-wired ideological commitment to patents, intellectual property, and the private sector, but may have understated the full scope of the Gates Foundation’s interests in this debate—like the sprawling array of intellectual property the charity has acquired access to through its grants and investments. Or the fact that the foundation co-owns a vaccine company.
Last October, The Nation reported on a $40 million investment the Gates Foundation made in 2015 in a start-up company called CureVac, which is currently wrapping up clinical trials for its Covid vaccine. The Gates Foundation at one point was the second largest shareholder of the company and had the ability to nominate a member to CureVac’s supervisory board.
The foundation is no longer a leading shareholder, but its 2015 investment may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars today, as last November CureVac agreed to supply up to 405 million doses to the European Commission—a deal that seems to raise new questions about Gates’s role in perpetuating vaccine apartheid. While the Gates Foundation currently stands to financially benefit from CureVac’s prioritizing sales to the wealthiest nations and preserving its intellectual property and patents, doesn’t the foundation’s charitable mission—and related tax benefits—require it to direct immunizations into the arms of the global poor? CureVac and the Gates Foundation both failed to respond to questions about if or how they plan to do so.
But the larger questions raised by their business partnership concerns how Bill Gates, one of history’s most storied monopolists, has found himself so deeply involved in what may be one of the most potent monopoly markets ever devised: a vaccine that virtually everyone on earth needs.
Beyond co-owning a vaccine company, the Gates Foundation has other far-reaching means to influence how vaccine markets work—or don’t. This includes helping direct the WHO’s efforts to deliver Covid cures to the global poor, advising the G7 delegation on pandemics preparedness, meeting with the US Office of the United States Trade Representative to discuss intellectual property related to Covid vaccines, holding regular calls with pharmaceutical company CEOs and Anthony Fauci, and brokering vaccine deals between the University of Oxford, AstraZeneca, and the Serum Institute of India.
It is increasingly urgent to ask if Gates’s multiple roles in the pandemic—as a charity, a business, an investor, and a lobbyist—are about philanthropy and giving away money, or about taking control and exercising power—monopoly power.
“What we’re seeing is the accumulation of 20 years of very careful expansion into every aspect in global health—all of the institutions, all of the different companies that often have these early-stage technologies, as well as all of the advocacy groups that speak to these issue, and all of the research institutions,” notes Rohit Malpani, a global health consultant and board member of the global health initiative Unitaid. “It also therefore reflects the failure of the Gates Foundation. The fact that they exert so much influence and even control over so many aspects of the [pandemic] response…and the fact that we are seeing so much inequity speaks to the influence that they have, and [suggests] the strategies that they’ve set out have not worked. And they have to own that failure.”
Because the Gates Foundation’s investment in CureVac is considered part of its charitable activities—through a little-studied IRS provision governing “program related investments”—the Gates Foundation is required to ensure that its investment supports the foundation’s charitable mission “to help all people live healthy, productive lives.”
A partially redacted “global access commitments agreement” the Gates Foundation signed with the company in 2015—made public through Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings when CureVac became a publicly traded company last year—stipulated that CureVac was to use the foundation’s money to fund a manufacturing facility and develop its vaccine technology, and that CureVac was to make its vaccines “available and accessible at reasonable cost to people most in need.” The agreement also appears to give the foundation legal rights to make sure this happens, including some claims to a “a worldwide, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, fully-paid up, royalty-free license” to products and “background intellectual property” developed with the foundation’s money—for example if the company defaults on its charitable obligations or goes bankrupt.
Article from: https://www.thenation.com/article/society/bill-gates-foundation-covid-vaccines/
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