By Howard Dean
May 22, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
Looking back at previous global health crises, public-private collaborations have led to successful vaccinations for the deadliest of diseases. In 2014, the West African Ebola crisis claimed the lives of nearly 11,000 people, spurring rapid research and development geared towards the creation of a vaccine to fight the disease. This past winter, in record-breaking time, the Food and Drug Administration approved Merck & Co.’s Ervebo vaccine, which marked a tremendous accomplishment by a unique global partnership.
With collaborations such as the one that developed Ervebo, we can set records when developing a vaccine for COVID-19 — but this requires the federal government to be fully on board.
An international strategy to combat the virus will depend on the joint forces of biopharmaceutical companies, government agencies and global partners. This unprecedented level of collaboration will provide the necessary bandwidth to prioritize vaccine and therapeutic candidates, streamline clinical trials and ensure all parties involved are able to leverage their assets for maximum results. It’s clear that this crisis is far too great for one company or institution to take on alone. Only by fostering an environment that encourages and facilitates the development, production and distribution of a cure will we overcome what will likely be the most significant global health challenge of our lifetime.
Usually Washington talk regarding the pharmaceutical industry centers around price regulation and reduction. That discussion is often sprinkled with invective about wealthy pharmaceutical executives indulging themselves, leading evil companies that take advantage of the poor and ordinary working people who can’t afford their life-changing products. While these messages make for nice soundbites on the campaign trail, flawed policies like mandated price controls are not the solution. These policies have been tried before in Europe and we witnessed their detrimental effects to the biopharmaceutical industry.
And the result of all this talk from both sides of the aisle is usually….nothing. Nothing except posturing for re-election on a populist program, which in the next two years will yield…nothing. Except Washington hot air.
I have a proposal. For the next eighteen months, let’s focus on helping the industry do whatever it takes in partnership with the academic community and the federal government to get adequate, effective testing, treatments and a vaccine. As we make progress towards ending the pandemic, those of us in the public sphere should also construct a way out of the pricing problem that is as devoid as possible of election year rhetoric.
The solution will involve the entire health care complex. All the factors leading to unaffordability need to be tackled, starting with the elimination of fee-for-service medicine, followed by insurance abuses, perverse incentives installed by pharmaceutical benefit managers and better regulation.
In the months ahead, as we do all we can to support public-private partnerships and try to put together thoughtful reforms, let’s remember that we are all on the same side as we try to save the world economy from collapse, and save hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States and elsewhere.
Howard Dean is an American physician, author, and retired politician who served as governor of Vermont and chairman of the Democratic National Committee; he currently works as an independent consultant focusing on health care, alternative energy and other issues.
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