This recent article from the New Republic is a bit of a slog if you have not become a student of the various attempts to create covid vaccines, treatments, etc. But it hinges on two factors that matter a great deal in education-- intellectual property and Bill Gates.
It comes, coincidentally, right around the 68th anniversary of Jonas Salk's creation of the polio vaccine, a hugely valuable piece of intellectual property that Salk famously gave away. "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?" Salk said. It seems like an obvious approach, both because Salk's work depended on tons of money contributed by folks and because a public health problem would seem to call for a public solution.
As Alexander Zaitchik reports it (and I'll now summarize), that was how the covid response story started, almost. Early in 2020, there was talk of open science, pooled resources, no-profit approaches. The world needed a solution, and quickly, and the barriers of intellectual property ownership shouldn't stand in the way.
That lasted till about April. Gates became involved, touting a public-private "charity" with IP rights and monopoly medicine respected and Gates in charge. Some folks warned that there could be a dual crisis of supply and access. But--Gates not only dismissed these warnings but actively sought to undermine all challenges to his authority and the Accelerator’s intellectual property–based charity agenda.
“Early on, there was space for Gates to have a major impact in favor of open models,” says Manuel Martin, a policy adviser to the Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign. “But senior people in the Gates organization very clearly sent out the message: Pooling was unnecessary and counterproductive. They dampened early enthusiasm by saying that I.P. is not an access barrier in vaccines. That’s just demonstratively false.”
In interview after interview, Gates has dismissed his critics on the issue—who represent the poor majority of the global population—as spoiled children demanding ice cream before dinner. “It’s the classic situation in global health, where the advocates all of a sudden want [the vaccine] for zero dollars and right away,” he told Reuters in late January. Gates has larded the insults with comments that equate state-protected and publicly funded monopolies with the “free market.” “North Korea doesn’t have that many vaccines, as far as we can tell,” he told The New York Times in November. (It is curious that he chose North Korea as an example and not Cuba, a socialist country with an innovative and world-class vaccine development program with multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates in various stages of testing.)