Sometime last Spring my second grader woke up excited that it was library day at school. He said he was planning to ask the librarian for pirate books. I sent him off to school with a smile. When he came home later that day I asked if he was able to find any pirate books and he said he did. I told him to meet me on the trampoline and we would read. Laying in the sun as he climbed up, I saw the book in his hand. It was a book about Christopher Columbus. I questioned him. “Is this a book about pirates?” “Yes”, he said, “Look at the ship.” I replied, “Alright, let’s read.”
As my 8 year old read I listened to the true tale for the first time in decades and I realized, indeed Christopher Columbus was a pirate. He took three ships across the ocean looking for spices in the Indies but instead he found the modern day Dominican Republic. Since he intended to go to the Indies, he called the people Indians, not thinking to ask who they might be. He took six native men with him when he sailed back to Spain to show off what he’d found. He didn’t invite them as first class guests. He took them…to a strange continent where they would never see their families or homeland again.
You may recall that he sailed with three ships: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. While still in the Dominican Republic, a huge storm blew in and destroyed one of the ships. With only two ships remaining, he left about 30 of his own crew on the island, again, never to see their families or their homeland again. This sounds like piracy to me - you take what you want without any regard to whom or where it belongs, or the consequences for others.
Before Christopher Columbus set sail, the Spanish Crown promised they would make him Governor of all the new land and give him 10% of all the revenue from the new land for life. Money and power have a way of corrupting one’s motivations and rendering it nearly impossible to see the damage being done in the name of progress.
Without the technology and ability to connect that we have today, I can see why it’s taken so long to re-examine the status of this supposed hero. But today, we have the ability to research in real time who it is we trust as leaders and pioneers. The pandemic has thrown a curveball to the entire world and we’ve looked to our leaders to help us through. Our government has funded several enterprises for a global vaccine, the chosen way out of this predicament; Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), and Moderna are among them. Though all three deserve their own investigation, today I’m going to provide a few stories that illuminate who J&J is and how they operate.
In the last decade alone, J&J has paid billions in settlements for concealing adverse side effects of its products, illegally marketing drugs for unapproved uses, bribing officials in Greece, Poland, Romania and Iraq, and for consumer fraud. In 2017, a class action lawsuit was filed against J&J over a vaginal mesh implant. The company knew about possible adverse effects but marketed it anyway. In 2010, a group of J&J’s own shareholders sued the company for negligence with regards to manufacturing problems, bribery, covering up adverse effects and misleading marketing for unapproved uses.
Most recently, J&J has had over 38,000 lawsuits filed against them claiming that one of their most famous products, baby powder, causes ovarian cancer. Having already spent billions in court and anticipating much more in the future, they pulled an evil-genius move.
They created another company and immediately declared bankruptcy. It’s called the Texas Two-Step and it limits the financial loss to the company. That is, a company that is worth $430 billion in stock market value.
Christopher Columbus was funded by the Spanish Crown, just as the development of COVID-19 vaccines was largely funded by our government, nearly erasing any risk these private companies had as a financial venture. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that just one research arm (Biomedical Research and Development Authority) spent $19.3 billion on vaccine development. J&J, Moderna, Sanofi, and AstraZeneca received $2.7 billion to cover costs related to human clinical trials. To buffer the vaccine companies from manufacturing costs, the government spent more than $100 million developing manufacturing capacity and $3 billion on contract manufacturers. In addition, they facilitated guaranteed purchase contracts to reduce market risk. For example, J&J had a $1 billion contract for 100 million doses of their vaccine and Moderna had contracts totaling $4.95 billion to produce 300 million doses.
In spite of the vast financial aid provided by our government (aka, our tax dollars), these companies reap enormous profits from the vaccine. J&J has had some set-backs, so they only anticipate sales to be $2.5 billion in 2021, while Pfizer forecasts $33 billion and Moderna $20 billion for this year alone.
I recently read that in Mexico City, the statue of Columbus is being replaced with the statue of an indigenous woman as they were the most harmed during colonization. It’s been 500 years since Columbus wreaked havoc on the Americas. Let’s not wait so long to realize that the incentives with regards to the Covid-19 vaccine program are aligned in a way that does not allow those in power to see the damage being done. There's simply too much money to be made by the pharmaceutical giants and those in key positions of power who carry out their agenda. Let’s knock these statues down or, better yet, not even put them up. These are not my heroes. My heroes are those risking their careers and lives to tell the truth.