New York Times Is Badly Confused About Economics of Coronavirus Vaccine

July 15, 2020

The New York Times had a piece reporting on the progress of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, based on a newly published article. After reporting on the relative success of the vaccine in a group of 45 healthy people, the NYT tells readers:

“Experts agree that more than one vaccine will be needed, because no single company could produce the billions of doses needed.”

This comment is more than a bit bizarre. There is no reason that a single vaccine could not be produced by many different companies. If Moderna, or any other company, has a patent monopoly, that could be an issue, but the government could force licensing of the vaccine. (Actually, since the government has picked up much, perhaps most, of the tab for this vaccine, it could just demand that the patent be placed in the public domain so that it can be produced as cheap generic by any drug company in the world.)

The piece is also somewhat bizarre in celebrating the success of this initial trial which it quotes someone on the development team as saying  “it exceeds all expectations.” According to the piece, many of the 45 healthy people who were given the vaccine developed serious, but not life-threatening, side effects. With a vaccine, we are asking people to take it who quite likely will not be infected, and many of whom would not suffer serious consequences if they are infected.

If a substantial portion of healthy people have bad side effects, the impact on less healthy people could be more serious. It may be difficult to get people to take the vaccine if they would experience serious side effects. They may just opt to be careful to avoid contact with people who might be infected.

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