Part 1 of 3: Noam Chomsky: Corporate Patents & Rising Anti-Science Rhetoric Will Prolong Pandemic

Part 1 of Noam Chomsky’s Three-Part Conversation with Democracy Now!

December 30, 2021. Democracy Now!.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, a special broadcast, an hour with Noam Chomsky. The world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author just turned 93 years old. Democracy Now!‘s Nermeen Shaikh and I recently interviewed Noam as part of Democracy Now!‘s 25th anniversary celebration. Noam Chomsky joined us from his home in Tucson, Arizona, where he teaches at the University of Arizona. We asked him about the state of the pandemic and why so many Americans have refused to get vaccinated.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s overwhelmingly a far-right phenomenon. Others have been drawn in. And I think there are many sources. Actually, one of them is probably social media, which does circulate lots of dubious or even false information. And if people are wedded to a particular part of it, that’s what they’ll be fed. But beyond that, there is skepticism, which has justification, about the role of government. Happens to be misplaced in this case, but you can understand the origins of the skepticism.

And it’s not just the pandemic. Much worse than that are the attitudes of skepticism about global warming. So, one rather shocking fact that I learned recently is that during the Trump years, among Republicans, the belief that global warming is a serious problem — not even an urgent problem, just a serious problem — declined about 20%. That’s very serious. Here we’re talking not just about the spread of a pandemic, but about marching over the precipice and ending the prospects for sustained, organized human life. That’s the kind of thing we’re facing. Well, you can talk about the origins of the skepticism, but it has to be dealt with and overcome, and very decisively and without delay, or else the whole human species and all the others that we are casually destroying will be in severe danger.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, can you talk about how you think that skepticism can be overcome — I mean, you, yourself, a serious critic of the corporate-government alliance — why people should trust large pharmaceutical companies like Moderna and Pfizer, that are making billions, why in this case we should trust that vaccines will save the population?

NOAM CHOMSKY: If the information came from Pfizer and Moderna, there would be no reason to trust it. But it just happens that 100% of health agencies throughout the world and the vast majority of the medical profession and the health sciences accept the actually quite overwhelming evidence that vaccination radically reduces onset of infection and deaths. The evidence on that is very compelling. And it’s therefore not surprising that it’s basically universally accepted by relevant authorities. So, yes, if we heard it just from Big Pharma PR, there would be every reason for skepticism. But you can look at the data. They’re available. And you can — when you do so, you can understand why there is essentially universal acceptance among the agencies that have no stake in the matter other than trying to save lives. You can understand why poor African countries who weren’t paid off by Big Pharma are pleading for vaccines. Their health agencies are.

And, in fact, the only exception I noted about this, apart from Trump for a period, was Bolsonaro’s Brazil, and he is now being under charges of a long senatorial investigation for charges of crimes against humanity for his failure to follow the normal protocol of trying to maximize the use of vaccines. Now that his reticence, reluctance on this matter has been overturned, it’s having the usual effect. Vaccinations are increasing, and incidence of disease and deaths is sharply declining. That correlation is so clear that it takes a real strange refusal to look at facts to see it. And again, as I say, health agencies throughout world are uniform and agreed with the medical profession on the efficacy of vaccines.

There are other things that have to be done: social distancing, care, masking in crowded places. There are measures that have to be taken. Countries where these measures have been followed carefully are doing quite well. But where there’s a high level of skepticism, whatever its roots, there are serious problems.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think the U.S. should do to ensure that countries get vaccines around the world, not only for altruistic reasons, but because you can’t end this pandemic here or anywhere unless these vaccines get out everywhere? And I’m talking about Moderna and Pfizer. Moderna, the U.S. gave billions to. Pfizer, the U.S. promised to purchase so much. And both corporations, among others, have made billions. And yet, what can the U.S. do to ensure that these vaccines can be made in other places, like requiring that Moderna release the recipe? Still they will make a fortune. What has Biden not done that would allow people to have access to these life-saving vaccines?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I should say that Europe’s record is even worse than that of the United States. Biden has made some effort, but the wealthy countries have not, including the United States, though not primarily the United States — they have not taken measures that are within their capacity to ensure that other countries that have the resources to produce vaccines will have access not only to the products, the vaccines, but also to the process of manufacturing them.

We should recognize that the World Trade Organization rules, instituted mainly in the 1990s largely under U.S. initiative, they are radically protectionist, radically anti-free market. They provide protection to major corporations, Big Pharma, not only for the products they produce but to the processes by which they produce them. And that patent can easily be broken. The governments have the capacity to insist that the processes be available and that vaccines be distributed to the countries that need it.

First of all, this will save uncounted numbers of lives. And, as you said, it means saving ourselves. If you let the virus run rampant in poor countries, everyone understands that mutation is likely, the kind of mutation that led to the Delta variant, now the Delta Plus variant in India, and who knows what will develop. Could be a — we’ve been kind of lucky so far. The coronaviruses have been either highly lethal and not too contagious, like Ebola, or highly contagious but not too lethal, like COVID-19. But the next one coming down the pike might be both, might even be nonsuppressible by vaccines.

We know the measures that have to be taken to try to prevent this from happening: research, preparations, health systems that work. It’s not a small point. Like, there are now new antivirals coming along which don’t stop the disease but prevent hospitalization. But you have to have a functioning health system. Very hard to see how these could even be usable in the United States, where the health system simply is not organized in such a way that people can get access to what they need.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You yourself have experienced the ruinous effect of low vaccination rates in certain states, where hospitals have been unable to provide regular services because all the beds are taken up with COVID patients. Earlier this year, you needed hospital care but were unable to access a facility because all the beds were taken with COVID patients. Could you explain where this happened and what exactly happened?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, don’t want to go into the details, but I had something which was severe, couldn’t get to the hospital where my doctors are. They were overwhelmed with patients. Had to go to a couple other hospitals, and finally they managed. So, you know, it’s not the worst case by any means. I should say that even getting a booster shot was not easy. My wife was trying for — Valeria — for weeks simply to try to get an appointment. The system — I’m lucky. I’m relatively privileged. For others, it’s much worse.

Hospitals are overflowing, with almost 100% unvaccinated patients in regions of the country, which are mostly red states, which have been reluctant and unwilling to carry out appropriate measures. Hospitals have been forced to cancel regular procedures just because of the crush of almost entirely unvaccinated patients filling beds. There’s a lot of extra deaths, enormous social costs. And all of this is under control. We know how to deal with it. It’s a social malady, a breakdown of the social and cultural order, which is very serious in the pandemic case, but, as I want to keep stressing, far more serious in the case of environmental destruction. And we don’t have much time there. We can survive pandemics at enormous cost. We’re not going to survive environmental destruction.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, the 93-year-old world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. When we come back, we talk about the climate emergency, the rise of proto-fascism in the United States and more.