Covid-19: For a vaccine in the public domain

Translated from T.Crouzet’s blog

A post-covid world different from the one we knew is possible. Either we stay in the model keeping us in an always accelerating, disastrous cycle, or we change it to adapt to the increasing complexity and uncertainty.

If a laboratory finds a Covid-19 vaccine and patents it to hit the jackpot, then nothing will have changed. Some believe capitalism is currently in crisis. The truth is it is only being cleansed of its cockroaches. Let’s take a look at the stock price history of the GAFAM. Microsoft is almost at its historical high, not to talk about Amazon. This crisis does not hit everyone. If there must be a change, it will come from policies, not from capitalism.

Is an open-source, non patented vaccine, placed in the public domain fantasy? No, it already happened. Extract from ‘Adapter pour adopter’, the book I currently work on:

In the United States at the beginning of the 1950’s, after working for the US army, Jonas Salk sets up its laboratory in Pittsburgh’s university, Pennsylvania, where he becomes teacher. Thanks to a funding by the Infantile Paralysis Foundation, he develops the first poliomyelitis vaccine. In 1955, after more than a million tests, the vaccine is declared effective. Salk decides not to patent it, giving up on a potential 7 billion dollars. His reasons: as a teacher, he considers having enough to live happily. Consequence: everywhere in the world, laboratories can produce the vaccine at minimum cost. In the medical field, releasing an innovation can save millions of lives.

We have another example, even more relevant today. To this day our main weapon against the Covid-19 is hydroalcoholic hand sanitizing. We don’t say it enough: this is the best everyday action to protect us, as it reduces by more than 80% the odds of contamination. Wearing a mask without sanitizing your hands is not only useless, but contraindicated since an individual that thinks himself protected is less cautious with his hands and more likely to contaminate himself or others. Wearing a mask in an effective way is complex.

Didier Pittet and his team of HUG, just like Jonas Salk, gave their hydroalcoholic sanitizer formula for free. Today, after a brief shortage, we have access to hand sanitizer precisely because the hydroalcoholic sanitizer formula are free of rights, in the public domain, and because many people started producing some when demand grew.

Then why don’t we have masks? Simply because before this crisis, no tested, reliable and easy to produce mask had been placed in the public domain. We trusted the market economy, believing it was more efficient, and we were proven wrong. We now have to appeal to indistrialists that speculate against each other and work for the highest bidder. As a result, the masks are produced extremely slowly.

There was no State scandal for hydroalcoholic sanitizer formula because they obey an other civilizational logic, an other economy that I called ‘peace economy’ in Le Geste qui sauve, a book under copyleft licence.

How come no one talks about patented Covid-19 tests? Because Christian Drosten and his team released mid-january the test they developed in public domain.

An other world is possible, we started building it, we even started thinking about open, decentralized currencies. In a way we already have the tools of tomorrow’s world at our disposal, but will we dare take this major step? Or will we withdraw in nationalist isolation, relocating industries back in our countries?

A few insights…

Global matters (sanitary, economic, climatic change…) need global answers because borders don’t stop them.

For these global answers to be practicable, we need effective global institutions, that are farsighted, representative, democratic… the opposite of nationalism.

If these institutions are centralised, for instance in New York or Geneva, then they are not global. Global institutions must be global themselves, therefore decentralised.

For global answers and actions to be possible, we should all have the same tools at our disposal, freely available. We need need an extensive public toolbox.

These tools must be usable everywhere, both in rich and poor countries. It would be a disaster to gather them in a country or a region.

The globalisation of crises implies the industrial decentralisation, if not its atomisation, which implies to rethink or production models. […]

This is not a postcommunist vision. The hydroalcoholic sanitizer formulas are a public good and industrials earn their living with it. But there are safeguards. No shortage, no ultra-speculation. It is an active economy, yet pacified, for a civilization with more harmony, dynamism, reactivity and flexibility in face of disaster. And if we used a currency of the same type, it would have the same qualities.

The question is not to place all our creation in the public domain, but to build a toolbox for humanity. It would contain essential medicines, tools, works of art, a global and ethical money. Each time we imagine something, each time we invent, we should ask ourselves if we should release it to the public domain or not. We must all lead this ethical interrogation and society must retribute us if we deem it necessary. Didier Pittet was able to do it because like Jonas Salk he was a medical teacher paid by the government. If there was a minimum income for all we would be in the same situation as they, and we would be able to give more freely.

States have a central role in the Covid-19 crisis. They notably come to help the market economy, that suddenly as in every crisis discovers that the invisible hand is but a chimera. But what is a State except a public service, therefore a common good. We already started this shift towards more public goods, we only need to continue it while avoiding the pitfall of centralisation: the toolbox must be everywhere and for everyone, which is not something centralised States concern themselves with. If there was a minimum income for all, we would be public servants in a way, and the State’s role would change. The future is yet to be imagined, but today we can already walk towards it… mostly because nationalism will only lead us to greater disapointments during the next disaster.

PS: if the vaccine was open source, in the public domain, it would automatically stop conspiracy theories and antivax activists.

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