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COVID-19 Vaccine Serves as a Reminder of the Importance of Federal Funding for Basic Research

The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in the United States and administration of the vaccine has begun. The COVID-19 vaccine, which took less than a year to develop, sets the record for the fastest vaccine development. The vaccine is a scientific success and serves as a reminder that many of America’s biggest technological breakthroughs are the result of collaborations between the private sector and the federal government.

Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) economists, explain some of the breakthroughs the federal government assisted in creating in their new book, such as the Defense Department building the internet, government research and development leading to transistors, silicon chips, radar, jet airplanes, satellites, artificial limbs, cortisone, flat screens and much more. At the end of the day, federal funding laid the groundwork for the COVID-19 vaccine by providing an additional $10.5 billion into vaccine companies since the pandemic began, revealing the importance of basic research funding. The Moderna vaccine emerged out of a direct partnership with the National Institute of Health (NIH). As for the Pfizer vaccine, the company turned down direct federal funding but did ask for the government’s help in procuring supplies and signed a $1.95 billion advance purchase agreement with Washington.

Moderna, through spokesperson Ray Jordan to the New York Times, acknowledged the company’s partnership with NIH throughout the COVID-19 development process and earlier. Pfizer spokesperson Jerica Pitts noted the company had not received development and manufacturing support from the U.S. government, unlike Moderna and other companies.

“This is the people’s vaccine,” corporate critic Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program, said to Kaiser Health News. “Federal scientists helped invent it, and taxpayers are funding its development… It should belong to humanity.” Dr. Barney Graham, deputy director at the Vaccine Research Center at NIH, stated, “having public-private partnerships is how things get done. During this crisis, everything is focused on how we can do the best we can as fast as we can for the public health.”

“It’s a silver lining, but I think we are definitely pushing forward the way everyone is thinking about vaccines,” said Michael Farzan, chair of the department of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research’s Florida campus. “Certain techniques that have been waiting in the wings, under development but never achieving the kind of funding they needed for major tests, will finally get their chance to shine.”