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The federal government should never have funded Operation Warp Speed, the 2020 central plan quarterbacked by the Trump administration to rush a coronavirus-vaccine to the people. About the previously expressed opinion, none of it should be construed as an expression of medical knowledge. None is needed to disdain what shouldn’t have happened.

To see why, consider the dangerous precedents set by a government eager for health reasons, or much worse, for political reasons, to quickly get a vaccine out the door. This example of excessive intervention (cheered in bipartisan fashion) means that going forward, the pathogens that are as old as mankind will be met with a federal response first, and much worse, they’ll be met by a government with taxable access to staggering amounts of wealth that it can throw at any problem first. Stop and think about this. Operation Warp Speed institutionalized central planning backed by billions of taxpayer dollars as the lead response to that which is said to threaten us.

Central planning always and everywhere fails during times of tranquility, yet we’re expected to believe that it works during times of uncertainty? To believe the obnoxious conceit that informed Operation Warp Speed is to believe that the federal government should always plan the drugs and vaccines of tomorrow. Why not? If federal largesse is so effective when all about us are theoretically losing their heads, why not keep government in the picture when there’s calm? Readers know the answer.

The simple truth is that pharmaceutical firms like Moderna and Pfizer are too important to be warped (no pun intended) by taxpayer funds. But that’s exactly what was done to varying degrees in 2020, and surely beyond. Where’s the outrage? We can at least hope it’s on the way care of Moderna.

Not only did the Cambridge, MA-based drugmaker receive billions for the creation of the Covid vaccine, it received billions more for producing millions of doses of it. Stop and think about this on its face. Have those who cheered Warp Speed considered the disfiguring impact on Moderna and others like it for it being the recipient of such a massive corporate payday care of the American taxpayer? To say that the dangling of billions won’t distort Moderna’s future actions, and those of its competitors amounts to willful blindness. As for the number of doses created, is it possible that easy access to the jab care of government caused more than a few to throw caution to the wind once jabbed, thus worsening overall health outcomes?

Bringing it all into the present, in its efforts to produce a coronavirus vaccine Moderna licensed technology from a small biotech company by the name of Arbutus. More specifically, Arbutus created the lipid nanoparticles (LNP) that would house the mRNA that gives the corona-vaccines life. Put another way, the LNPs acted as the proverbial rocket that would carry the mRNA into the bloodstream.

What matters for the purposes of this write-up is not the science, but Moderna allowing its licensing of Arbutus technology to lapse. And having allowed it to lapse, Moderna using the technology anyway. That’s important simply because the Arbutus technology helped make the Covid vaccine possible, and with it Moderna’s massive payday.

Quite understandably given the billions Moderna made from Warp Speed, Arbutus and parent company Genevant are suing for infringement. Which is where it gets weird, or actually not very weird. If government was going to lean on pharmaceutical firms to rush a vaccine, indemnity from liability had to come next. And so it is for Moderna via-a-vis Arbutus. The Department of Justice agreed last year to take on Moderna’s liability for patent infringement which, given the billions Moderna earned via federal largesse, could easily add up to billions.  

So there you have it. Pathogens are now a federal affair, as are public-private responses. Liability? American taxpayers will be expected to foot the bill there too. If only Randolph Bourne were around to comment...

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book, released on April 16, 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

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