It’s popular to loathe mainstream pharmaceutical companies. Big Pharma has been accused of profiteering at the expense of the poor. Of not doing enough to find solutions to the diseases of the poor. And, when they do develop cures for the poorest, the patents are promptly stolen from them through compulsory licensing.
Some scientists are even opposed to the “power” of Big Pharma and are, like the characters in John le CarrÃ©’s Constant Gardener, working to bring down vested interests. The heights of that hubris was reached by Dr Andrew Wakefield, a British medical scientist, in 1998.
Mumps, measles and rubella are terrible diseases that have plagued humanity for generations. They are so common amongst children that they are normally abbreviated together as MMR. Parents all across the world have immunised their children using a variety of vaccines. In 1988 the UK introduced a combo-MMR drug that stopped the disease dead.
The ignorance of the free-rider
Try and grasp how awful these diseases are. They are airborne and easy to get, especially amongst groups of children. The fatality rate in un-immunised cases is 15 â€“ 25%. Mumps can cause sterility and brain damage. Measles can leave survivors with unsightly scars. Rubella causes congenital birth defects in infected pregnant mothers.
As long as the base population immunisation-rate remains at around 85% some part of the population can catch a “free ride”. Fringe groups that tell you they never get sick, even though they have never been immunised, are catching a free ride on the dedication of the rest.
In 1998 following a scientific process so ropy that it defies belief Dr Wakefield announced that the MMR vaccine causes autism in a significant number of children. Overnight panic swept the UK and parents stopped immunising their children.
In 2006 a 13-year-old boy became the first person to die of measles in the UK in 14 years. The base immunisation rate had dropped to 79%.
Dr Wakefield is accused of paying children at his son’s birthday party GBP 5 each in order to draw their blood. He gave one child a measles drug he was hoping to market in order to test the drug. His research was not authorised and he was not qualified to undertake it. Worse, he announced his results prior to any peer review.
There was so much wrong with his approach and methods that it just cries out to be stopped. If a mainstream pharmaceutical company behaved in this fashion the public would be suitably outraged.
Yet Dr Wakefield is supported by poster-bearing parents at his trial, demanding that the “truth will out”.
The self-fulfilment of hating
The question is how has it come to this point? Why do so many people prefer the doubtful benefits of quackery, and rubbish the efforts of mainstream corporations? Why do people expect that companies will cause them harm? And why are they attracted to charlatans?
It can’t just be Enron. That was an abomination. It is not the norm. If it were stock markets would not be at their highest valuations around the world. Traders would be certain that their investments would be stolen; they’d be pulling out, not pushing in.
And those self-same protestors at anti-globalisation gatherings have their pensions and lifesavings invested in those same companies they’re protesting against. Pensions are “low-beta” spread investments designed to return a stable capital gain. What could be more stable than blue-chip firms like those in pharmaceuticals, retail, industrials and mining?
It is bizarre that companies that have provided so much good for the world and extended human life by such vast quantities are treated like criminals.
Consider: life expectancy is longer than ever (in every country except the African continent) but what you can achieve during that lifetime is greater than ever too. The humble washing machine dramatically reduces time spent on chores and increases time spent on you. The same goes for microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners and industrial processes.
Ever increasing efficiency speeds up processes and lowers prices.
Certainly, there are executives who are corrupt, just as there are corrupt politicians and corrupt lawyers and corrupt human rights activists. But when you accuse the means of your salvation of killing you then you will get what you want. You will die.
If the companies making washing machines are exploiting you, do the washing by hand. If the companies selling you music are stealing from you, don’t buy any. If the drugs you take to prevent measles are causing more harm than good, don’t take them.
Your life will be shorter and considerably more drab.
The choice is yours. No-one is holding a gun to your head. Except the government when they tax the companies who sell the things you no longer want.