Western COVID-19 vaccines: An iron fist in a velvet glove?

January 22, 2021 - 11:9

TEHRAN- Since its emergence in Asia late last year, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the defining global health crisis of the 21st century and the most demanding challenge since World War Two.

According to official statistics, we have reached the tragic milestone of one million deaths all over the world. Therefore, developing an effective vaccine to immunize people against this unprecedented public health emergency is now a major medical concern.

According to the World Health Organization, currently, more than 230 pharmaceutical companies around the globe are working to develop the corona vaccine and more than 30 million vaccine doses have already been administered in 47 mostly high-income countries.

Meanwhile, four drug giants have grabbed the headlines: Pfizer,  Bionotech, Moderna, and Oxford as well as fierce controversy surrounding the safety of their products, possible adverse effects and efficacy let alone some lawsuits against them due to their products.

Herein, maybe Pfizer Inc., an American multinational pharmaceutical corporation as one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies has hit the headlines at the most.

Undoubtedly, using vaccines can be considered as one of the safest and most secure methods to confront pandemics but against this background some critical questions may leap to mind:

Why COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and skepticism are ever-increasing, even in the U.S?

For what causes are the so-called developed countries such as France, once a vaccine pioneer, so hesitant to get the shots?

 As stated by the Wall Street Journal, France now meets some of the world’s highest skepticism rates with only around 422,000 people receiving the vaccine in more than three weeks since European regulators authorized the drug, far behind most other developed nations.

Also, approximately, 4 out of 10 Americans say they would “definitely” or “probably” not get a vaccine, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 12,648 U.S. adults from Nov. 18 to 29, 2020.

Currently, the so-called resistance exists among health workers in the U.S., France, Norway and East European countries. As Associated Press reported on January 18, in countries like the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria, vaccine skeptics have included former presidents and even some doctors. For instance, Serbian tennis champion Novak Djokovic was among those who said he did not want to be forced to get the shot.

Additionally, the Islamic Republic of Iran as a nation facing the most unprecedented sanctions in the history of international relations by Western countries (ironically those vaccine-producing states) is facing harsh criticism for prohibiting import of American and British vaccines.

In a televised speech on January 8, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned the import of vaccines from American and British companies, emphasizing they are not reliable. 

After these remarks, Iranian officials were accused of being preoccupied with conspiracy theories and “depriving Iranian People from Highly Effective vaccines…”

Regardless of permanent anti-Iran propaganda, the fundamental question is: Why are American and British vaccines considered unreliable? For what reason, in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far claimed the lives of nearly 57,000 in Iran, the Leader of Islamic Revolution is underlining Western sanctions on Tehran? Is it really a conspiracy theory? Does politics overshadow health and lives of millions of Iranians? The answer lies in a brief overview of anti-Iran embargoes as well as inspection of some official records of lawsuits against the above-mentioned multinational drug giants.

Washington claims that food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions that the U.S. imposed against Tehran after President Donald Trump walked away from the JCPOA in 2018. However, the U.S. measures targeting oil sales to shipping and financial transactions have deterred major foreign banks from doing business, including humanitarian deals, with Iran. Therefore, hundreds of Iranian patients suffering from rare disease such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), some cancers and Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), have had difficulty accessing medicine after the illegal sanctions were imposed. In fact, smart sanctions introduced during the Barack Obama administration targeted Iranian civilians, including patients in desperate need of vital medications.

In addition, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S declared that the Trump administration would not offer sanctions relief to Iran. However,  in paradoxical remarks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The whole world should know that humanitarian assistance to Iran is wide open, it’s not sanctioned!”

Pfizer has faced thousands of lawsuits for medical injuries caused by some of its most widely-used medications as well as setting a record for the largest fine paid for a health care fraud by the U.S. Department of Justice.

It paid $2.3 billion in fines, penalties, and settlement for illegal marketing claims. Some of the Pfizer lawsuits have been dismissed, some others settled, and several remain in court systems.

The Manhattan-based corporation also plays a determining role in United States politics.

In report aired by CNBC television on Dec 23 2020, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have total immunity against lawsuits related to injuries resulting from the vaccine until 2024! It would be interesting to learn that COVID-19 vaccine was researched and developed in just eight months, breaking the speed record of four years.

One of the latest worrisome news about the adverse side effects of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is reported from Norway. The country has reported mortalities among elderly recipients of the shots. A few others have developed severe but not fatal reaction called anaphylaxis.

Furthermore, in 2018, Pfizer came under scrutiny for raising the prices of 100 of the company's drugs. In July, Donald Trump blamed the company in a tweet stating that Pfizer "merely taking advantage of the poor & others unable to defend themselves."

Pfizer is also one of the single largest lobbying interests in United States politics. For example, in the first 9 months of 2009 Pfizer spent over $16.3 million on lobbying congressional lawmakers, making it the sixth-largest lobbying interest in the U.S.

According to U.S. State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, Pfizer "lobbied against New Zealand getting a free trade agreement with the United States because it objected to New Zealand's restrictive drug buying rules and tried to get rid of New Zealand's former health minister, Helen Clark, in 1990.

Stealing Drug Secrets

In fact, the U.S. medication producer reminds us of controversies, ranging from stealing drug secrets to the millions of dollars it spends on lobbying for tax cuts. According to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, Pfizer spent $219 million in lobbying and $23 million in campaign contributions between 1999 and 2018.

Definitely, the above facts may be just the tip of the iceberg. There exist several formal documents revealing hideous unethical clinical testing trials by the U.S, German and British drug corporations in developing countries which have led to long-lasting adverse effects on large populations.

For instance, in 2008, the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations released a document revealing numerous registered examples of unethical clinical testing in the 1990s and throughout the 2000s in the developing world, including Ugandan women taking the anti-transmission drug Nevirapine between 1997 and 2003. It resulted in thousands of serious adverse effects. By letting these symptoms go unreported, it led to the death of several African women. 

Another shocking trial took place in India in 2003 in which eight subjects, even unaware of testing of the anti-clotting drug Streptokinase, died.

Besides, many European and American people have been victimized by a lengthy list of medications which found their way into marketplace without taking appropriate testing phases.

Among them Thalidomide scandal is one of the worst in the history of drug tragedies that led to "biggest man‐made medical disaster ever" in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Pregnant women in 46 countries such as Spain, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as the U.S.  used German pharmaceutical company Chemie Grunenthal drug thalidomide to treat morning sickness resulting in more than 10,000 children born with a range of severe deformities as well as thousands of miscarriages. But the FDA refused approval to the drug stressing that further studies were needed. Therefore, the similar impacts were much less limited in the U.S.  

The above painful story of medial tragedies are still continuing, proving that now MONEY TALKS, not the call of conscience. Global health crises, such as the current pandemic, can be a sharp two-edged sword for nations falling in love by Western souvenirs wrapping their iron hand in a velvet glove.

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