The is being said to be potential breeding ground for an Ebola outbreak. Of course, this has health officials and political figures alike, seeking out measures that would hopefully prevent the spread of the dangerous illness.
Vaccine manufacturers, as fate would have it, are now outright competing for the business of supplying the region with a vaccine. If this sounds like something out of The Onion, be warned, this is real life.
Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or China’s version of the CDC, Gao Fu, is sending a team of health experts to the Congo to surmise the situation and bring them their country’s vaccine option.
“We will seek to use the Chinese developed vaccine there to help with control and prevention of the disease, but for the present, the vaccines will likely only cover Chinese living in Congo,” Gao is reported as saying in China Daily.
In other words, China is refusing to sit on the sidelines and allow some other competitive pharmaceutical companies reap all the spoils.
As it stands, Merck is winning the race. The company is the only one to have a truly approved Ebola vaccine version.
China admits that the DRC hasn’t reached out or requested any help from them, but they are sending it regardless hoping to win the contract.
The WHO is attempting to ice China out of the deal, claiming that the Merck solution is all that’s needed.
“The way the current epidemiology stands for this outbreak, I would say not,” Dr. Peter Salama told STAT. “But if anything changes in this outbreak and certainly for the future we would definitely want to encourage more than one vaccine to be available.”
Merck’s experimental vaccine, for now, has won the battle. The vaccine has been experimentally administered to at least 2,064 in the region.
But China’s play is an example of a pharmaceutical vaccine arms race that’s become all too prevalent, even on a domestic level. Sure, competition fuels innovation, which is a huge reason why socialized medicine setups hit walls, but using a group of people as experiments in a vaccine arms race is less than generous on every level. It shows us that the sick are often times guinea pigs of the corporate profiteers.
China may be looking to cash in on a Trump administration that won an election based off of “making America great again.” In fact, populist movements, including the recent Doug Ford win in Ontario, Canada, could open the door for countries like China to increase their global pharmaceutical influence/footprint.
And China knows exactly what it is doing. Strategically, China realizes that Merck likely doesn’t have a full-on solution, leaving an opening for China to simply toss their solution into the hat. Even if uninvited or unwanted, local health officials may be motivated to try things beyond Merck.
The University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy, Michael Osterholm, said that China’s actions are likely a sign of the times, according to STAT.
“This is the beginning of what I think is a very consequential change in international public health response, with impact on overall global health security,” Osterholm said. “By beginning to turn our back on global health security … we have not understood that those that provide the emergency response and those that provide the vaccines and those that provide the care and treatment are often those who also have access at the table of the highest levels of government for every other thing, including trade, resources and all aspects of regional security.”
“What makes it difficult is that if the Chinese license a product and bring it to a low- or middle-income country … and we’re still trying to evaluate those vaccines and drugs that we believe are important, it may actually create a real challenge,” Osterholm said. “The country may well be motivated to use the licensed [Chinese] product, even without potentially the same rigor of evaluation that we’re putting our vaccines through.