Defending Big Pharma
To the Editor:
James B. Meigs is correct that Big Pharma’s response to the COVID pandemic was impressive, but he ignores the fact that Americans pay the full freight for new drug development for the whole world (“Thank God for Big Pharma,” June). Insulin costs 10 times as much in the United States as it does in Canada. Americans die from lack of access to a drug that has been available for 100 years. The price of adalimumab (Humira) has been raised 25 percent in the last two years with no real justification. Antivirals for hepatitis C are so expensive that insurance companies have limited access to the medications. If paying for the drugs yourself, it is cheaper to vacation in the Caribbean and get the same medication there than to stay home and be treated. Big Pharma has a lot to answer for.
Richard A. Baum, M.D.
To the Editor:
James B. Meigs correctly points out the roles of Big Pharma and Operation Warp Speed in producing a vaccine in less than a year. President Trump also tried to address the problem of Big Pharma’s setting much higher prices for drugs sold in the United States than elsewhere. Perhaps the author could comment on that continuing issue.
Seymour M. Cohen, M.D.
New York City
James B. Meigs writes:
I think it’s telling that both these letters concerning drug prices come from physicians. It must be so discouraging to write prescriptions for vital medications knowing that some patients won’t be able to afford them. And both doctors are correct that our system of pricing drugs in the U.S. is a confusing hodgepodge. The current system gives pharma companies incentives to slap the highest possible list prices on their products. Between insurance plans and the rebates that “pharmacy benefit managers” pass through, most consumers don’t pay full price. But some do, and that’s unfair.
It would take another full-length article to address all the proposals to tackle this problem. But in general, I think the best approach involves increasing competition rather than imposing regulations that would reduce incentives for innovation. For example, it is surprisingly hard to get a new generic drug through the approval process. That’s one reason there is no generic version of insulin today. If we could streamline that process, it would mean more options for physicians and lower costs for patients. There’s no question our current system has room for improvement. But our mostly free-market approach to pharmaceuticals has produced one lifesaving innovation after another. The amazing COVID-19 vaccines are just the latest example. Let’s not destroy this system in the name of trying fix it. When it comes to regulating Big Pharma, our motto should be: First do no harm.
To the Editor:
Michael M. Rosen’s article discusses the limited use of a patent to enable those less familiar with the mRNA technology to reproduce the vaccines efficiently and effectively without contaminants (“Biden’s Patent Madness,” June). I think of it this way: A patent identifies what is unique about an invention and has as much use in its manufacture as a property deed would have in the building of a house.
To the Editor:
I loved Michael M. Rosen’s article. It provided a rare voice of sanity in this discussion. This debate is missing a party with a win-win mindset. Why is no one talking about purchasing the patents and open-sourcing them?
Michael M. Rosen writes:
Jon Lachman posits that patents covering COVID-19 vaccines are inappropriate because they’re irrelevant to manufacturing vaccine doses. But Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, Johnson & Johnson’s, and AstraZeneca’s patents cover both the vaccine formulations themselves as well as methods of manufacturing them. Forcing these companies to relinquish these rights, which were hard-earned through dedicated, expensive research and development, would create a grave injustice and impede future breakthroughs. In Mr. Lachman’s terms, it would be akin to handing Ms. Smith’s property deed to Mr. Jones: It’s unfair to Ms. Smith in particular and destabilizes property rights in general.
Many thanks to Mostapha Benhenda for his kind words and thoughtful proposal. While it’s unlikely that any one company, individual, or country possesses both the resources to purchase the relevant patents and the expertise to deploy them skillfully, plenty of other win-win opportunities are worthy of pursuit, including America’s and other governments’ purchase of vaccine doses for developing countries and Moderna’s agreement not to enforce its patents during the pandemic.
To the Editor:
Jonathan Schanzer has written an excellent, in-depth, and well-documented article (“The War Between Wars Heats Up,” June). I offer a small but important point in light of the social- and mainstream-media nonsense about Jews “occupying” and “stealing” land or “taking over homes”: The dispute in the Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods in Jerusalem should be clearly explained. These homes were built by Jews before 1948 (the neighborhoods were called “Kfar HaShiloakh” and “Shimon HaTsaddik”). The Jordanians expelled the Jews from their homes when they conquered the area in 1948. Those Jews were replaced by Arabs from the Talbieh neighborhood in western Jerusalem.
After the 1967 war, the Jewish owners went to court to have their homes returned to them. For political reasons, there was a compromise: The Arabs were upgraded to legal tenants (with no ownership rights), on condition that they pay the legal owners a symbolic rent of about 25 percent of the going rate for similar rentals.
After the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority ordered these renters not to pay the monthly rent (circa 1995). For 25 years, the Jews appealed in courts, but the issue was not resolved, mostly because “evicting” Arabs from homes was a politically sensitive issue.
Now the issue of delinquent tenants getting evicted from rented homes has been made into an international cause célèbre. The fiction that’s been built around this issue, added to innumerable similar fictions, is nothing more than propaganda that is swallowed by too many people.
Jonathan Schanzer writes:
The Sheikh Jarrah real-estate dispute was one of several false narratives perpetuated by Palestinian rejectionists and the international media during the 2021 Gaza conflict. Real-estate disputes don’t cause wars. Rockets and bombs do. And in this case, it was Hamas that elected to begin firing projectiles at Jerusalem, some 50 miles away from where the dispute was taking place. Also lost in the breathless media coverage was the fact that Israel’s judicial system was handling the case. Those who blame Israel for the outbreak of the war because of a legal dispute are tacitly suggesting that the Israeli government should have somehow scuttled the case in order to placate the Palestinians. This is not how legitimate legal systems operate. An entire chapter devoted to this episode will be included in my forthcoming book on the Gaza war. It’s due out, via FDD Press, in October 2021.
To the Editor:
Christine Rosen really touches on something important in her Media Commentary column (“The Reality Distortion Field,” June). The fire and fury around the issues du jour are skewing our perceptions of how much has been accomplished and the relative size of how much is left to do.
The fights over women’s suffrage were more than 100 years ago and affected half the population. The fights over civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s were against the evils of Jim Crow and affected about 12 to 13 percent of the national population. In the 1990s and 2000s, the battle was engaged on behalf of gay rights, which affects 3.5 percent of the population. Now we have moved on to transgender rights, which affects around 0.3 to 0.6 percent of the population. Based on the shrillness of the discussion today, one would think that now would be a terrible time to be a woman, to be black, to be gay, or to be transgender. But when in history would it have been any safer than today to be any of those?
The left’s approach has shifted radically. With the push to legalize same-sex marriage, the idea was to win over hearts and minds and offer people the chance to be on the right side of history. Now, with transgenderism, there’s a race to catch up with all of the newly created terms and vernacular that must be used to show that one is in the know. And if you question any of the orthodoxy, you are deemed transphobic and guilty of trying to “erase” people who are transgender. Past rights battles were about equality; the current ones are about favoring certain people. Some transgender people are pushing for this shift, but I suspect it’s mostly non-trans liberals who are screaming the loudest about it. They believe in something passionately that they were only made aware of a few years ago—and now everyone else must get in line.
Christine Rosen writes:
I appreciate John Boren’s historical perspective. The current generation’s demands for greater social justice rarely include anything similarly informed, which leads them not to greater understanding but to history as hyperbole—i.e., everything with which they disagree they label “Jim Crow 2.0” or “white supremacy.”
I agree that the shift on the left from focusing on equality of opportunity to equality of outcome (now called “equity”) is an affront to the very principles that allowed earlier movements for social justice to flourish. Moreover, the increasingly aggressive calls to use state power to enforce these questionable “equity” policies and to suppress the free-speech rights of those who disagree with such initiatives will only increase if our K–12 schools continue down the path of adopting a critical-race-theory perspective in their teaching about the U.S., and the mainstream media promotes questionable ideological projects that attempt to rewrite history to suit present-day ideological claims. Yes, our country’s history is filled with terrible events and people; but it is also and even more so an ongoing and extraordinary story of how ideas about freedom, equality, and the dignity of the human person, when embraced by a committed and heterogenous people, can create a powerful and free nation. Those who claim to be committed to justice will never achieve it if they neglect those ideals.