Can private companies effectively serve public health functions?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, private companies have stepped into public health roles traditionally held by government agencies and non-governmental organizations.
For example, Google and Apple collaborated to create exposure notification software that has been adopted domestically and internationally; Verily, the life sciences division of Google’s parent company Alphabet, opened COVID-19 testing centers in fifteen states; Facebook created an elaborate system for suicide prevention while simultaneously determining what kinds of health information are safe for its billions of users to consume; and private companies have led COVID-19 vaccination efforts from development (e.g., Moderna and Pfizer) to distribution (e.g., CVS and Walgreens).
This privatization of public health, which has taken shape over the past few years and accelerated rapidly during the pandemic, raises challenging ethical and legal questions. What is lost when public health becomes privatized? Are values like scientific rigor, transparency, equity, and accountability upheld? Are the promised efficiencies of the free market realized? This panel discussion will address these questions and more.