By ILARI KAILA / JOONA-HERMANNI MÄKINEN
[This article was published in Jacobin Magazine.]
“We felt it was our duty to start developing this type of alternative,” says Professor Kalle Saksela, Chair of the Department of Virology at the University of Helsinki. “Back in the spring, I still thought that surely some public entity will get involved and start pushing it forward. Turns out that no situation is urgent enough to compel the state to start actively pursuing something like this.”
Saksela’s team has had a patent-free COVID-19 vaccine ready since May 2020, which they dubbed “the Linux of vaccines” in a nod to the famous open-source operating system that also originated from Finland. The work is based on publicly available research data and predicated on the principle of sharing all new findings in peer-reviewed journals.
The research team includes some of Finland’s scientific heavyweights, such as Academy Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttuala of the A.I. Virtanen Institute, a former president of the European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, and Academy Professor, Academician Kari Alitalo, a foreign associated member of the National Academy of Sciences in the US. They believe their nasal spray, built on well-established technology and know-how, is safe and highly effective.
“It’s a finished product, in the sense that the formulation will no longer change in any way with further testing,” Saksela says. “With what we have, we could inoculate the whole population of Finland tomorrow.”
But instead of exploring the potential of IP-free research, Finland, like other Western countries, has continued to follow the default policy of the last several decades: to lean fully on Big Pharma.
In the mainstream narrative, the first-generation COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca are typically presented as an illustration of how markets incentivize and accelerate vital innovation. In reality, the fact that the profit motive is the overriding force shaping medical research has been devastating — particularly in a global pandemic. The Finnish vaccine provides a striking case study of the many ways in which the contemporary patent-based funding model has slowed down vaccine development, and how it currently hampers the possibility of conducting effective mass-inoculation campaigns.