The following is a review excerpt of Owning the Sun: A People’s History of Monopoly Medicine from Aspirin to COVID-19 Vaccines by Economy for All fellow Alexander Zaitchik. Click here to read the full article.
In Owning the Sun, Alexander Zaitchik shows how American drug companies have exploited government contracts to pursue profit over public interest.
One of the main corporate participants in Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s multibillion-dollar crash program to create and produce a Covid-19 vaccine, was Moderna. The federal government gave Moderna, which in 2019 was a small, unprofitable pharmaceutical firm, some $2.48 billion for vaccine development and bought millions of doses at $26 each for essentially free distribution to US residents. Moderna’s profits soared to $21 billion over the course of the pandemic. In late 2022, when federal subsidies seemed on the verge of ending, the company announced that it would soon offer an updated version of its vaccine at as much as $130 per dose. Many Americans were outraged.
Moderna’s behavior will not surprise readers of the journalist Alexander Zaitchik’s Owning the Sun, an indictment of American drug companies and the federal government for all too often privileging profits over health, and of the research universities, medical professionals, and philanthropists who have been deeply complicit with them. Ranging for the most part from the early years of the United States to the Covid-19 pandemic, the book shows how the drug industry and its affiliates operated in a state of ethical grace through much of the nineteenth century and in the twentieth fell from it with accelerating speed.
Zaitchik relies heavily upon recent studies that have called the prescription drug industry and its allies to account, for example Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor (2003) and Graham Dutfield’s That High Design of Purest Gold: A Critical History of the Pharmaceutical Industry, 1880–2020 (2020). What distinguishes Owning the Sun is its aim to be a “people’s history” that tells the interrelated stories of drug commerce and the patent system “from the perspective of the dissenters, critics, and antagonists.”