In case you didn’t notice, the activities surrounding big Pharma has been very much in the spotlight in the last few years due to the Covid pandemic; it doesn’t feel like so long ago that I was turning up for vaccination shots at a city-centre concert venue. That venue is now offering up live music instead, and there’s a concerted effort to tell us that everything is back to normal, except when it isn’t. The sudden, craven monetising of green issues means that I can’t return to the city unless I come up with big money for ULEZ instantly; the Covid ‘rebuild’ has provided a perfect cover to punish the working poor and enrich the layabout rich, and that world of ‘compulsory purchase’ power we live in with increasing suspicion comes under inspection in Barak Shpiez’s timely short Vax.
A 12 minute short offers a concise delivery system for a prescient question; if Big Pharma is a business, who exactly is that business good for? Geoff (played by Cade Carradine) is a scientist who is carrying out methodical tests in his search for a malaria vaccine. By accident, he comes across a development that might mean a potential cure, but would that breakthrough be counter to the financial plans and profitability of the company he works for? Geoff’s supervisor, Eric (Ricco Ross) seems keen to talk down any potential significance; a batch may be contaminated. But Geoff unwisely confides in his wife Rachel (Marguerite Wheatley), and a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing…
Vax is a tight little film that deftly raises a number of issues. If capitalism is king, or at least the over-riding philosophy of our motivation, then resolution might not be the most attractive solution to medical problems; you can trace this kind of argument about taking care of number one back to religious debates about the poverty of Christ. As a Proof of Concept, Vax could well be expanded into a full-blown conspiracy thriller, and maybe it will, but for now, it makes its points with admirable brevity, and should be viewed by anyone keen to see beyond political point-scoring.
We have been warned; films like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion indicated the potential for a global pandemic, but the bottom line is that the opportunity to monetise death and injury for personal gain proved too strong for many supposedly responsible bodies to go along with. Instead, many chose to enrich their own pockets while an estimated seven million died; disaster capitalism writ large. Unless we think hard about what’s actually happening here, the cycle will repeat; films like Vax play an invaluable role in getting us to stop short-term thinking and political point-scoring and look at the bigger picture of how moral checks and balances might constrain corporate greed.