Coronavirus Update: Following the money

Kit Knightly

The Coronavirus is still the big-ticket news item, with confirmed cases now covering 11 countries. ELEVEN!

Most of the mainstream media are doing that, saying the number of countries rather than the number of people. I suppose because it carries the implication that, somehow, everyone in all those 11 countries is under some kind of imminent threat.

As of the time of writing, the real (or at least reportedly real) numbers stand at 1407 cases, 41 deaths. Which means the mortality rate is now actually below 3%.

For comparison’s sake – the death rate of the Ebola virus is 90%, Bubonic plague 40-60%, Smallpox was ~30%, and the 1918 Spanish flu between 10 and 20%. So we’re hardly dealing with a big-hitter here.

Even the hysterical-nothing burger that was SARS had a (reported) death rate approaching 10%. [For more on the links between SARS and the Wuhan outbreak see John Rappoport’s excellent work on the subject].

For anyone doubting that, whatever the truth of the situation on the ground, this is being hyped to spread fear: The Guardian has a big red “LIVE BLOG” for the disease today. Counting up the death toll very slowly, and with what I would call a rather unseemly amount of enthusiasm.

China are building a whole new hospital, we’re being told. There are “bodies in the streets”, apparently:

The Daily Mail is reporting that an Australian research team is “racing against the clock” to engineer a vaccine. The researchers claim it will take them 6 months (a very fast turnaround for vaccine development, which usually takes years).

If the disease carries on its current trajectory, by the end of that six months roughly 7200 people will have been infected, around 250 of whom will have died.

In the same timeframe, about 15,000 people will have been injured in car accidents, and around 900 of them will have died…in the UK alone.

Based on that, you could argue the resources poured into the “race against time” would be better spent inventing stronger seat-belts or funding an anti-drink driving campaign.

After all, any good this hypothetical vaccine might do needs to be off-set against the potential dangers of injecting thousands – even millions – of people with a vaccine that will have had no long term safety studies whatsoever.

Of course, the Daily Mail doesn’t mention that.

Another thing The Daily Mail doesn’t mention is that the vaccine being developed by Queensland University is a cooperative project with Philadelphia-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals, who received a grant of $9 million to combat the Wuhan outbreak.

A second pharmaceutical firm, Co-Diagnostic Inc, has received a similar grant to develop a coronavirus “screening test”.

Inovio previously hit the headlines a few years ago, when they received a grant to create an anti-Zika vaccine (something they managed to do in less than six months).

The grants were distributed by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an NGO that promotes global vaccination and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (among others).

Inovio’s stock jumped 12% when it was announced they had been commissioned to manufacture the vaccine, whilst Co-Diagnostic’s stock almost doubled in value following the news :

[Co-Diagnostics Inc.’s stock] nearly doubled (up 80%) to a one-year high. Trading volume shot up to 36.1 million shares, compared with the full-day average of about 161,000 shares.

But that’s just the beginning. The CEO of Co-Diagnostics sees a much bigger windfall down the line (our emphasis):

Chief Executive Dwight Egan said in a statement that if the World Health Organization declares the illness a global health emergency, he believes Co-Diagnostics would be in position to “quickly assist” in providing its test to the affected countries.

Note the bolded.

Whatever else is going on, however real or otherwise this “outbreak” proves to be, “if the WHO declare a global health emergency”, some people are going to make a lot of money.


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