The Covid vaccine conveys a competition between the USA, Russia, China, Great Britain and Germany. The remaining states are aligned with a certain country whether they want to or not, depending on the vaccines they choose… or are available to them. The most egregious example is perhaps the failure of Mexico and Argentina with AstraZeneca, which forced them to resort to Sputnik only to discover that Russia did not have enough production capacity, finally attempting to replenish the supply with the vaccine manufactured in Brazil by the Chinese laboratory Sinovac. New fiasco: this vaccine only results in a 50% immunization rate.
Within the EU the debate is different. The European Commission has started to come under criticism for the management of vaccine purchases. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is subject to transport and conservation requirements that have hindered, further delayed and even interrupted vaccination campaigns. The European Commission defends itself by arguing that the joint purchases organized by it have not only ensured an equitable distribution between countries but also allowed even Germany to get the doses in advance.
And yet resentment spread through the corridors of Brussels and at the technicians’ conferences: Pfizer-BioNTech was the wrong horse to bet on and had to be put aside in favor of the Moderna vaccine, much less pick regarding the equipment and cold chains of healthcare systems.
Tension has increased this week. While the European Commission was buying another 200 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Germany was pulling out of the common order by placing its own order, governments were increasingly receiving internal criticism because of the constant delays and slowness of the process. Macron bared his teeth at Merkel, demanding that Germany get back in the group and, above all, French participation in decision making.
The interests of the German capital
Underneath this new European fight there is an open secret: Germany is taking advantage of the Covid health crisis and -some say- its power in Brussels, to create a biotechnological industry capable of competing with Great Britain, China and the USA.
A historic opportunity for German capital that the Chancellor has been fighting for at least since March 2020, when she faced US pressure to condition the financing of Curevac and Biontech’s research -two German companies- to the exclusivity of the resulting rights. The German government was soon aware that the europeanization of the vaccine gave opportunities to the German biotechnology industry to leapfrog and become Big Pharma without having to submit its results to the draconian conditions typical of the industry. And so it was: the European purchase commitment served as a guarantee for German companies. BioNTech made a deal with Pfizer that allowed for massive capitalization. The Berlin government then matched Curevac and Bayer, replicating the partnership model. And the millions began to flow.
Never before has so much money been invested in the German biotech industry as last year, mainly due to the two vaccine developers BioNTech and Curevac. The biotech industry raised more than three billion euros from financial investors through capital increases during the first year of the Covid crisis. Over three times as much as in 2019 and more than twice as much as in 2018. However, about half of this funding last year went exclusively to BioNTech and Curevac, which raised about 1.5 billion euros. Of this, 300 million euros came from the federal government’s shares in Curevac.Der Spiegel
Investment cascades don’t stop. And neither does public money. Bavarian President Markus Söder (CSU), the favored right-wing German candidate to succeed Merkel as Chancellor, is already demanding public funds to help the industry install two factories to produce vaccines. The German biotechnological employers point out that the most important thing is to reach, before the end of the pandemic, a massive capitalization that would allow it to compete against the global Big Pharma. The German bourgeoisie, with Dietmar Hopp, the founder of SAP at the helm, who invested in Curevac in its beginnings, was clear: now or never.
Meanwhile, in the rest of Europe, even those political leaders closer to German interests, such as the Galician President Feijóo, admit that until April, when the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will no longer be a minority in the available basket, it will be impossible to increase the rate of vaccination and the hope will be very faint.
Evidently, Spanish, Italian and French politicians want us to look at a single cause for delaying vaccinations. They want to tiptoe through the systematic weakening of healthcare services since the so-called austerity campaigns and the inconsistent and limited scope of recruitment for the vaccination campaign.
But they are right about one thing: delaying vaccination hurts capital and its businesses and above all – even if they try to render it invisible – it costs the lives of workers and the general population. If, as they point out and appears likely, this delay is partly due to a narrow choice of main supplier to create a biotechnological champion, the EU would have shown to what extent the peaceful and civilized European project is capable of the worst crimes to serve the interests of German capital.