By Carlos Alberto Montaner
In the USA there is nothing more expensive than health care. I know a Spaniard who, one January 1st, noticed that his nail infection could not be cured using home remedies. It was the usual: swelling and painful throbbing. He had the terrible and unsanitary habit of biting his nails when he was nervous and, as he himself told me, “ripping his cuticles off.”
He was in Los Angeles. He went to the emergency room of a hospital. They examined the index finger of his right hand, they pricked the abscess to drain the pus, they prescribed an antibiotic that cost $98 and they gave him a bill of $2,927. He was livid.
The doctor had treated him for 19 minutes, although he had to wait patiently four hours for his turn. “Shoot” he told me, “$154 per minute! Medicine is a rip-off in the United States.”
Not quite. Donald Trump, when he was in the White House, at the beginning of last year had the excellent initiative of purchasing hundreds of millions of vaccines from different laboratories. That was his best decision in the four years he spent in Washington. It seems that Dr. Fauci, today his enemy, ended up convincing him that the solution was in vaccines. It was a colossal nonsense to continue recommending hydroxychloroquine or, much worse, bleach intravenously.
President Joe Biden is complementing the work of his predecessor. He has nearly tripled the number of people being inoculated with the vaccines. They already have 2.8 million a day. By the end of next month, they suppose they will reach 3.5 million per day. The bill that the federal government will have to pay will be about $10 billion. It is not too much if one takes into account that the country needs to return to a normal life. In a nation with a military budget -- in peacetime -- of $716 billion, paying $10 billion is a bargain.
For that amount, Washington has obtained several extraordinary vaccines in record time: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca (linked to the University of Oxford in England) and Novavax. But more importantly, a very healthy climate of collaboration and competition has developed in the drug industry.
At least four drugs are about to save thousands of lives, according to a BBC report: a serum developed in Brazil with antibodies that prevent Covid-19 from affecting the lungs; Pfizer announced a few days ago that it is testing a powerful antiviral; the French-Swiss multinational Roche is creating “cocktails” of monoclonal antibodies that reduce deaths of Covid-19 patients by 70%; and finally, recently, the pharmaceutical companies MSD and Ridgeback announced the launch of another powerful antiviral that substantially eliminates the viral load that affects coronavirus patients.
All of these drugs would hardly have emerged without the pandemic, and they surely have other important uses. It costs approximately 2.6 billion dollars to create a drug until it is made available to patients who need it through doctors’ prescriptions. To that bleeding of dollars we must add another three hundred million in “post-production” costs. Roughly speaking, those three billion dollars are what successes cost, but only 12% of the “remedies” that initiate the procedures reach that port. I get that dreadful data from the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development published in the Journal of Health Economics.
There is not the slightest doubt. The pandemic, which has cost so much blood, sweat and tears, has served to revitalize the scientific world. Today there is talk of vaccines against cancer and against degenerative diseases of the nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Hopefully they will materialize soon. Sick people are crying out for them. @Firmas PressCarlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is Sin ir más lejos (Memories), published by Debate, a label of Penguin-Random House.