Why the “vaccine debate” fails to address the systemic issues of capitalism and corporate greed.
By E.F Nicholson
When issues surrounding vaccines appear in the media, its often boils down to a very binary and narrow argument of pro-vaccine vs anti-vaccine, in particular reference to the question of the relationship (or non-relationship) between vaccines and autism. The “pro-vaccine” side is often framed as the rational, sensible and science-based perspective and the “anti-vax /vaccines causes autism” are often seen as the irrational, conspiracy-theory nut jobs. Depending on where you sit on either side of the fence, the debate can be viewed as either of the following: Will rational intelligent truth win against loony-driven misinformation that vaccines cause autism, or will the lamestream media and big pharma silence the truth that our kids are being poisoned?
This kind of polemic “for or against” type debate keeps the argument within acceptable parameters. Yet it misses the wider issue of the systemic problems that exist because of healthcare’s intersection with unchallenged capitalism and the global corporations that champion its advancement. What we know is unfettered and rapacious corporate greed exists on an unprecedented scale with devastating consequences to humanity and our environment. Its most destructive effect (which we in the West our buffered from) is the way in which the third world is kept in abject poverty and endless war to ensure cheap access to resources and labour. Yet its damaging impact still bears down upon us, in the form of environmental destruction, the structural violence of austerity, unquestioned militarism, corrupted and inequitable financial systems, legal systems that are two-tiered and governments that are unmitigated in their service of corporate power. This is exemplified most blatantly in the US where a Princeton study revealed that the US is essentially an oligarchy . That is, the wishes and wants of the people are not what shapes the legislative process, rather it is corporate interests that drive how the government operates.
So the problem with the for or against “vaccine debate” is it misses the question of the legitimacy of capitalism and the neo-liberal economic model that produces, sells and is enriched by vaccine sales. When any organisation’s primary goal is profit, not society’s wellbeing, then we have to assume that the chief objective will always trump what is best for the citizens. The alignment between profit and wellbeing may converge but only as a bonus, never as its exclusive purpose. We have a regulatory and political system that is meant to ensure public safety but has essentially become a revolving door with same the businesses that the regulation is meant to be protecting against. Then you add to that the millions being poured into campaign contributions (to both political parties), super PACs and intensive lobbying by the same industries, it becomes clear how the system is rigged exclusively for corporate interests.
As time and time again large pharmaceutical companies commit crime after crime, and fraud after fraud with no real consequences other than a slap on the wrist and fines that get factored into the cost of doing business. And these are just the crimes that come to light! That being the case why shouldn’t people be concerned and distrustful of an economic system where “crime” genuinely does pay? The fact is a pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline, illegally persuaded doctors to prescribe the drug Paxil to children and teenagers despite internal evidence that it’s ineffective and can trigger suicidal thoughts in adolescents; a psychopathic mindset that can only be described as “big deal a few kids kill themselves, gimme more money”. The outcome of that fraud and others was a colossal 3 billion dollar fine, yet no imprisonment for the CEO or the other management involved. This reveals how sociopathic and criminal in nature not only these companies are, but the whole system itself. These very same corporations that are engaged in such high-level criminality are meant to be trusted with all the data and findings when it comes to vaccine use, because why?
What’s rich about the whole scorn and derision put onto people that think vaccines have caused autism in their children (which John Oliver’s latest segment highlights) is the complete lack of understanding and compassion. That given the history of extensive lies, fraud and cover-up people have every right to wonder and question. The emphasis shouldn’t be “stop being so stupid anti-vaxers” rather it should be “stop being so corrupt and brazenly greedy Big Pharma”. Yet to really examine this we then have to ask harder questions as to what economic system breeds such corporate greed and criminality.
Systemic issues are difficult and more complicated problems to address and discuss. They don’t fit into a neat and tidy narrative of rational vs crazy, truth vs lies. Yet if these wider issues aren’t addressed versions of the “vaccine causes autism” debate will just keep surfacing under different forms surrounding different issues. Global corporate interests are happy for there to be a debate on “Do vaccines cause autism?” What they are not willing to do is debate whether capitalism is the right vehicle to deliver positive global health outcomes. I doubt that is something we will see on John Oliver any time soon.
Past articles on vaccines and John Oliver