Commentary

Private Enterprise Can Get Us Through the Pandemic

By Penny Nance | August 17, 2020 | 9:59am EDT
A woman wears a mask while walking past a social distancing sign. (Photo credit: Noam Galai/Getty Images)
A woman wears a mask while walking past a social distancing sign. (Photo credit: Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Recently I went on record to say it is time for America’s businesses to reopen with proper safety protocols in place, while at the same time taking additional steps to protect our most vulnerable citizens such as our elderly in nursing homes where so many deaths have occurred.

We must consider the negative health impacts of remaining locked down due to depression, cancers not detected, suicide, spousal abuse, and drug and alcohol addiction, just to name a few. We know from years of studies the terrible health impact of high unemployment. 

At my organization, Concerned Women for America, we are especially concerned about the economic impact on small businesses, many owned by women, who are desperate to provide for their children, and in many instances as caregivers to their elderly parents. These talented women have shown that they can creatively reopen in a way that protects public health, and it is time to trust their commonsense and that of their customers.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, President Donald Trump and many of the state governors who believe in the power of the free market, partnered with private industry to relieve shortages of personal protective equipment (PPP), ventilators, testing equipment and swabs, hand sanitizer, and other critical supplies. The president and these free-market governors used government power smartly as a means of coordination and logistical support, but they were careful not to stifle private sector initiative or to impose one-size-fits-all big government solutions from Washington. The president resisted calls for an authoritarian takeover of the private sector through excessive use of the Defense Production Act, not only because he understood our Constitution requires a decentralization of power, but because he knew American businesses large and small would step forward as patriots to get the job done if government would encourage them and cut bureaucratic red tape.

The story of this pandemic did not start on our shores, but the final chapter will be written here. We must return fully to our normal lives in order to restore the economy and the well-being of future generations. Many, however, remain afraid and unable or unwilling to resume their lives until effective therapies and vaccines are widely available. And once again, the answer is to be found in the private sector, not in government. 

Since the genetic sequence for this virus was posted in early January to an open access repository for virologists around the world by Chinese researchers, private biopharmaceutical companies, many based in the United States, have moved swiftly to find therapies and vaccines. An astonishing number of clinical trials are listed in the World Health Organization International Registry and more are being added daily. Many more vaccines and therapies are in pre-clinical trial investigation.

How is it possible that so many drugs are being tested so quickly? 

Once again, the answer is mostly found in the free market. Businesses, and private investors who back them, are continually working on research and development (R&D), sometimes spending billions of dollars on drugs that may never come to market. 

I share the concern of many Americans that drug costs can be a hardship and that the industry must work hard to keep prices affordable. But we must do so in a way that protects consumers and yet does not threaten R&D. At a time like this, it appears that robust investment is paying off. 

A drug such as Gilead’s Remdesivir, an antiviral medication, is a good example. It was first developed more than a decade ago as a hepatitis C drug, but without success. But the private sector did not give up; it continued to invest in the drug.  When its antiviral activity against RNA viruses was discovered, it was successfully used to treat Ebola until an even more effective drug was developed. Early trials of Remdesivir against COVID-19 are very promising, and it has received authorization for emergency use by the FDA for patients with severe symptoms and is saving lives in hospitals today.

Forbes recently interviewed Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who is willing to spend a staggering $1 billion to simultaneously test four cutting edge COVID-19 mRNA vaccines with the goal of getting emergency use authorization from the FDA by October in preparation for the flu season. And they are ramping up manufacturing capacity, even before a proven vaccine is in hand. 

Government can help the private sector and play a role in this final victory against COVID-19 by partnering to fund ongoing research, by helping to build stand-by production capacity, and by pushing other nations to pay their fair share of R&D costs.  And, as we learned over the last few months, in the critical area of testing, strong leadership has proven that you can cut unnecessary red tape and expedite approvals from government regulators without compromising safety. That same attitude needs to be applied to vaccines and therapies.

Lastly, there are things government should not do. Gov. Cuomo, in one of his daily “fireside chats,” suggested that the day after a vaccine is proven effective, the government should seize its intellectual property. That kind of socialist approach will discourage future research and will kill the goose that we are counting on to lay the golden eggs which will get us beyond this pandemic and sadly, the next one. 

Conservatives know that socialist policies never make sense and are the last thing we need in our health care and pharmaceutical industries in these difficult times. Their free-market instinct has been proven right. The lesson of the last four months is clearly that the private sector is the solution. Let’s not forget it.

Penny Nance is the CEO of Concerned Women for America, the nation's largest conservative women's organization.

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