In his column “Private sector saved us while government bungled Covid details” (Spokesman, March 7), conservative Marc Thiessen claims that the “medical miracle” of the COVID-19 vaccines was the result of the “the innovative free enterprise system.”

It is very unlikely that Johnson & Johnson would have gone forward without a government grant of $456 million. U.S. taxpayers gave Moderna $955 million for late-stage clinical testing. Pfizer refused to take government funds for the development of its vaccine, but Trump officials did guarantee $1.95 billion for production and distribution.

Biochemist Katalin Kariko, originally from Hungary, and University of Pennsylvania immunologist Drew Weissman did the original research on the revolutionary mRNA vaccine, first licensed by Moderna.

Pfizer’s German partner BioNtech received $455 million in government funds and used Kariko’s and Weissman’s research for its vaccine. So far Uncle Sam has distributed about $14 billion to seven drug manufacturers for COVID vaccine development.

There is nothing miraculous about drug companies’ desire to make huge profits in a market of 7.9 billion people. These companies have largely stayed out of vaccine development primarily of the risk of low profits. This is most likely the reason why they have not produced better treatments for tuberculosis, whose primary victims are the world’s poor.

Drug companies also will have to concede that decades of work at the National Institutes of Health, the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, Scripps Research Institute, Universities of Pennsylvania, Cambridge and Oxford have contributed to the research.

Other COVID-19 vaccines that will soon be available use older methods that were also largely funded by government agencies. There is a reason to place “public” first in the phrase “public-private partnerships,” because many of the achievements of the 20th century (space, health, economics) could not have been accomplished without government support.

Outside Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, there is a state-of-the art pharmaceutical factory whose managers want to produce COVID-19 vaccines, but Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca refuse to waive their intellectual property rights.

The U.S. government will soon hold a patent on Moderna’s mRNA vaccine, but its contract came with the provision that the technology not be shared for worldwide production.

The World Health Organization is insisting that President Biden use his executive power to break this vaccine monopoly. Otherwise, hundreds of millions of lives will be held hostage by profit rather than pursuing the common good. The longer the developing world waits for vaccines, the greater the risk for mutant variants, which are a danger for rich countries as well as the poor.

After ignoring public funding for vaccine development, Thiessen then criticizes government failures during the pandemic. He takes cheap shots at Anthony Fauci’s alleged mistakes, but does not mention ex-President Trump’s responsibility — the biggest “bungler,” to use Thiessen’s word. Trump privately admitted to Bob Woodward that he knew that the virus was far more deadly than the flu, that it was airborne and that children could die from it.

In a previous column (Lewiston Tribune, Jan. 7) Thiessen candidly wrote about Trump’s 10 worst mistakes, and one was that his “vaccine distribution has been an inexcusable disaster,” as it left “about 22 million Americans without any immunity during the deadliest period since the pandemic began.”

Trump and his wife were inoculated in private, and, only when prompted on Fox News, did he say that people should get the vaccine. However, he immediately undercut his recommendation by saying that “we have our freedoms and we have to live by that, and I agree with that also.”

In a recent poll, 41 percent of Republicans (49 percent of men) said that they won’t get the shot, while only 11 percent of Democrats did. It will be very difficult for us to reach herd immunity with so many foolish people opting out.

Why isn’t some attorney willing to file a class action suit on the part of families who have lost loved ones, citing Trump’s willful and gross negligence?

Nick Gier is professor emeritus at the University of Idaho. Read all his columns on the virus at Email him at

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