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We need science AND socialism: Biden unveils COVID team as Pfizer announces vaccine

Today was filled with major developments related to the battle against the Coronavirus pandemic. Joe Biden’s transition team announced its COVID-19 advisory board that would be responsible for shaping the incoming administration’s approach to tackling the disease, and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that it had developed a highly effective COVID vaccine. 

Biden’s advisory board is led by three co-chairs: former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler, and Yale University professor Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith. The formation of this body is the first major official act by the Biden/Harris camp since securing victory in the presidential election.  

Meanwhile, Pfizer, one of the largest corporations in the world, said that one of the vaccines it had been developing had proven to be 90 percent effective according to early test results. Pfizer executives and Mike Pence squabbled over whether or not the Trump administration deserved partial credit, but overall the news was met with great relief around the world. Many countries, especially the United States, are bracing for a resurgence of the virus in the winter. U.S. infection rates and deaths have already begun to spike.  

Science: At the service of capitalists or workers?

President-elect Biden’s announcement of a COVID transition team composed of medical professionals is in keeping with his campaign trail presentation of the issue: He believes in science, and will take actions that are scientifically sound. That a presentation this vacuous could have any resonance at all is testament to how monumentally the Trump administration mishandled the pandemic response, failing to develop a coherent national strategy and politicizing the most basic public health measures like wearing masks. 

“I will be informed by science and by experts” Biden pledged in the official statement announcing the Coronavirus advisory board. And in his victory speech over the weekend Biden promised to “To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope” in the fight against the virus. 

Similarly, CEO of Pfizer Albert Bourla said of the release of his company’s vaccine, “Today is a great day for science and humanity.” It was also a great day for Pfizer’s stock, which jumped nearly 8 percent in value, adding about $15 billion to the company’s market capitalization. The U.S. government has already pledged to purchase 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine at a total cost just short of $2 billion. The stock market overall surged, with the Dow Jones index hitting an all-time record high in intra-day trading. 

But a vaccine is expected to take around a full year to produce and administer in a quantity great enough to decisively end the global pandemic. In the meantime, there are hugely consequential questions that cannot be answered purely on the basis of scientific expertise. Will there be a cancellation of rents and mortgages so tens of millions are not kicked out of their homes? Will the mass unemployment crisis be addressed with an income guarantee or national jobs program? Will medical care be provided free of charge and recognized as a basic human right?

A related set of questions could be asked in relation to Pfizer. Will serious measures be taken to prevent the company from wantonly profiteering off of this desperately-needed vaccine? Will the company be compelled to share its “intellectual property” with the rest of the world to speed the production and distribution of doses?

Joe Biden and the Democratic Party’s answer to all of these questions is “no”. Their content-free appeals to science is a cynical maneuver to make their cruel aversion to any major social program that alleviates the burden of the working class amid the pandemic seem more palatable.

There is no way to innovate around the fundamental question facing society: should human needs or corporate profits be the priority? As the pandemic continues to cause hardship, suffering and death; and as a new administration prepares to take office, it is more important than ever to be in the streets demanding that human needs come first. Socialists believe that science should be liberated from the constraints of capitalism’s single-minded pursuit of profit.   

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