Week 8: What’s happening in the world of the vaccine?

The top 5 most promising candidates—and what we know about access to them

A recent review by the Cornell Alliance for Science has identified the five most promising vaccine candidates for COVID-19. Here they are, ranked by the Alliance from most to least promising, with our added commentary on affordability:

  1. CanSino’s adenovirus vaccine, particularly significant because President Xi Jinping has announced that any vaccine developed in China will be a “global public good,” meaning it is likely to be available widely and cheaply. (We say this tentatively, because China has not made encouraging statements regarding intellectual property.)
  2. Oxford University’s adenovirus vaccine. While Oxford initially stated that its “baseline policy will be to offer non-exclusive, royalty-free licences to support free, at-cost or limited margin supply,” it has since partnered with AstraZeneca to manufacture the vaccine, and the details of their intellectual property arrangement have not been made public. And at a press briefing on May 28th, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot condemned the WHO’s patent pooling initiative alongside leaders from GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson. Soriot argued that “IP is a fundamental part of our industry and if you don’t protect IP, then essentially there is no incentive for anybody to innovate.” His comments are concerning for access, and we’ll keep you updated as we learn more.
  3. Moderna’s mRNA technology. The company has not made any assurances regarding access and affordability.
  4. Sinovac’s inactivated virus vaccine. Because Sinovac is a Chinese company, our commentary is the same as for #1.
  5. Inovio’s DNA vaccine. The company has not made any assurances regarding access and affordability.
Take Action

Sign a petition for the UK government to make the vaccine affordable!

Looking for an action that takes less than a minute?

Sign this petition by Global Justice Now calling on the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Secretary of State for International Development!

The petition asks for conditions to be attached all UK funding for COVID-19 vaccine research, ensuring that the vaccine will be affordable to all in the UK and globally.

Access Champions

Highlights from Week 8 Mission: How do you make an iconic image?

Learning from Iconic AIDS Activism

This week, team leads Steve, Merith, and Rebecca spoke with Avram Finklestein, the AIDS activist and designer who helped create the famous SILENCE = DEATH image shown above. He’s also the artist behind many other powerful images that have defined AIDS activism. Take a look!

Avram shared lessons learned from his work in AIDS activism, advice on capturing public attention, and ideas for how to do effective work as a collective. Our Lab members took this week to watch or listen to the conversation with Avram, and then began brainstorming their own images and text—keeping in mind three initial key principles: riffing on images already familiar to your audience, avoiding technical or political jargon, and using humor.

They also shared their own takeaways from the webinar with each other. Courtney Surmanek wrote:

Write it all down, and edit later (not during!). We’re all capable of incisive, creative thinking, we’re just not trained to think we are. Reminds me of “yes, and”, the basis of improv, which is what I use to describe the ethos I look for/want to help guide in collaboration.

And how amazing to hear that the infamous SILENCE = DEATH phrase emerged from a quick volley/brainstorm across a dinner table as opposed to a more intensive brainstorming session (or rather, perhaps after the intensive brainstorming session). What’s the online version of the dinner table?

I’ve REALLY love the online platform Icebreaker and want to explore it more to support the brainstorming phase.

Sofia Weiss-Goitandia was reminded of an action she had helped to create with her Friends of MSF group at the University of Cambridge called the No More Tears Challenge. In Sofia’s own words:

Listening to Avram speak about the importance of the opening sentence has reminded me of a campaign our Friends of MSF group created at the University of Cambridge, which I thought might provide some further inspiration. The ‘No More Tears’ challenge was created by our group in order to try and pressure Johnson and Johnson into lowering the price of their TB drug bedaquiline. Basically people have to film themselves eating a chilli whilst trying not to cry, and then it’s shared on social media. This piece of campaigning spread really quickly, and was picked up by the MSF access campaign. What I love about the ‘No More Tears’ tagline is that it’s taking J&J’s own catchphrase, and confronting it with them, which worked really well as an opening sentence.

WATCH: Collectivity and Communicating in Public Space

The webinar has inspired a lot of creativity from our lab members—and it’s simply too good not to share with you in full. You can watch the webinar below, and we’ve also provided a Table of Contents with timestamps to help you navigate to the content you need.

TimeTopic Link
00:00Intro 1
15:30Storytelling in Capitalism
24:55The Opening Sentence
28:13Critical Analysis
29:00Simple but not simplistic 1
36:45Working in Collectives
48:27Plan Campaigns
52:35Growing into your role
1:00:03Working in Public
1:06:35Tips for Collective Projects
1:11:08Q: Doubt the collective?
1:20:39Q: COVID conversations?

Action Updates

This post has been a longer one, but we still have a couple action updates from our Labs that you can’t miss! Some quick highlights for you, this time:

  • The Bisons have sent their first “Free The Vaccine” themed sleeping mask and box to Dr. Atul Malhotra, a pulmonologist specializing in sleep medicine. They’ve also created a Twitter account, so give them a follow!
  • With Avram’s lessons in mind, our Labs have already drafted some awesome images with which to reach out to their target scientists! Here are just a couple examples:
A draft poster by Fiona from the Seal team.
Some draft postcard ideas by Mahima and Elin from the Fox team.
  • After learning that Dolly Parton had donated $1 million to vaccine research at Vanderbilt University, the Zonkeys decided to build a campaign focused on Dr. Naji Abumrad, her friend and a scientist at the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology, and Inflammation, in whose honor she made the donation. The Zonkeys have worked with Vanderbilt students to reach out to the university’s technology transfer office about the Open COVID Pledge, as well as Dr. Abumrad’s son Jad Abumrad, who is a host for RadioLab. They’ve asked him to share their message through a podcast episode. And they also have something super creative in the works, so stay tuned

Representatives Schakowsky and Rooney Call For Affordable Coronavirus Treatment and Vaccine

In an op-ed for Newsweek, U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Francis Rooney argue for various government reforms which would ensure affordable drugs and vaccines for COVID-19, including combating monopolies, requiring an affordable price, and mandating transparency in R&D funding.

We know drug corporations will continue to exploit opportunities to profiteer just as they have in past epidemics like HIV/AIDS, the man-made opioid crisis and chronic health diseases like diabetes. But as COVID-19 ravages the globe, we also know that any medicine or vaccine the drug corporations develop with public money is 100 percent ineffective for those who can’t afford it.

Lower drug prices should not be a partisan issue. That’s why we are introducing legislation establishing three protections against price gouging for COVID-19 vaccines, drugs or other therapeutics: an end to the exclusive monopoly control that allows select drug companies to manufacture and determine the cost of medicines; a guarantee that pharmaceutical corporations are not allowed to sell any COVID-19 vaccine, drug or therapeutic at an unreasonable price; and a requirement that manufacturers publicly report total expenditures, including actual research and development, and the percentage of those expenditures that were derived from federal funds.

We’ll keep you updated as more details are announced about the new legislation! If passed, these reforms would be significant steps towards freeing the vaccine and towards ensuring access to affordable medicines overall.


MSF Calls for No Patents on COVID-19 Drugs, Tests, or Vaccines

The international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, announced on May 27th that they were calling for no patents or profiteering on all COVID-19 medical products.

The international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) today called for no patents or profiteering on drugs, tests, or vaccines used for the COVID-19 pandemic, and for governments to prepare to suspend and override patents and take other measures, such as price controls, to ensure availability, reduce prices and save more lives.

Already, Canada, Chile, Ecuador and Germany have taken steps to make it easier to override patents by issuing ‘compulsory licenses’ for COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and other medical tools. Similarly, the government of Israel issued a compulsory license for patents on a medicine they were investigating for use for COVID-19.

Following intense criticism from civil society groups and MSF, pharmaceutical corporation Gilead just gave up a special designation from the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) that would have allowed for extended monopoly control over the 20-year patents it has filed for in more than 70 countries for its potential COVID-19 treatment candidate, remdesivir. Preliminary results of clinical trials using remdesivir to treat COVID-19 are expected in April. However, Gilead has yet to commit to not enforcing its patents globally. 

“Gilead has no business profiteering from this pandemic and must commit to not enforce or claim its patents and other exclusive rights,” said Dana Gill, US Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “Otherwise, Gilead is setting itself up to charge whatever it wants for remdesivir during this global health crisis, and for years to come. This is even more outrageous when you consider the tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars and public resources that have already contributed to the research and development of remdesivir.”

MSF is deeply concerned about access to any forthcoming drugs, tests, and vaccines for COVID-19 in places where MSF works and in other countries affected by this pandemic, and is urging governments to prepare to suspend or override patents for COVID-19 medical tools by issuing compulsory licenses. Removing patents and other barriers is critical to help ensure that there are sufficient suppliers selling at prices everyone can afford.

“We know too well from our work around the world what it means to not be able to treat people in our care because a needed drug is just too expensive or simply not available,” said Dr Márcio da Fonseca, Infectious Disease Advisor at MSF’s Access Campaign. “In countries where pharmaceutical corporations enforce patents, we urge governments to set the wheels in motion to override these monopolies so they can ensure the supply of affordable drugs and save more lives.”

Médecins Sans Frontières Press Release

Week 7: What We’re Reading

If you’re interested in what the editorial board of the world’s preeminent science journal has to say about ensuring access to the vaccine…

Read this editorial in Nature arguing that patent pooling is critical to ensuring health justice, and that accepting the conventional profit-driven model during a pandemic is unconscionable.

If you’re looking for an explanation of the ongoing issues around pricing for Gilead’s publicly-funded antiviral drug remdesivir…

Read this piece in the Washington Post, with input from access to medicines advocates and a history of Gilead’s pattern of profiting off of publicly-funded medicines.

If you’re interested in learning what cybersecurity policy has to do with access to a vaccine…

Read this thought-provoking post on the Lawfare blog, which discusses recent public service announcement by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, explains why the terms it frames coronavirus research in are harmful, and argues that a more collaborative approach to science is necessary right now.

Take Action

Write about Free The Vaccine and the Open COVID Pledge!

For those who can commit to a more time-intensive action, a New York Times editor is looking for college students to write op-eds about their experiences during the pandemic and their thoughts on schools reopening. This could be a great opportunity for a college student to write about our campaign and the Open COVID Pledge!

Head to the editor’s DMs to make your pitch, and feel free to reach out to the FTV team with questions.

Take Action

Reach out with us!

Heads of state, former heads of state, and other prominent figures have formally announced their support for The People’s Vaccine, arguing in an open letter that the vaccine should be available to all, in all countries, free of charge. We’ve compiled the full list of signatories here.

For this week’s quick and easy action, we’re asking you to join us in reaching out to one of the signatories on the list—just @ them on Twitter—and thanking them for their support! Don’t forget to use the hashtag #FreeTheVaccine.

So far, we’ve been working on highly-targeted actions asking researchers and institutions to join the Open COVID Pledge. That’s an important part of our campaign. But reaching out to The People’s Vaccine signatories is about broadening our engagement. We’re trying to build a global movement, and this open letter tells us there are powerful people on our side. It’s important that we connect with them, leverage that power, and link our actions to the global mission at hand.


Week 7: What’s happening in the world of the vaccine?

No vaccine yet, but Moderna’s CEO has already turned a profit

Reports on Moderna’s early vaccine trials have been mixed, but initial positive reports sent the company’s stock soaring. The company’s CEO and several top executives sold thousands of shares to profit off of this spike, with the company’s top four executives making $30 million in just a few days. With up to $480 million in US taxpayer funding behind Moderna’s success, it’s problematic that the company has yet to make a commitment regarding the vaccine’s affordability. If it’s not too soon to profit off of the vaccine, it’s not too soon to honestly discuss its price.

A Bangladeshi company will be the first to supply generic remdesivir

Using its power under the TRIPS Agreement to issue a compulsory license, the Bangladeshi government has allowed the company Beximco to manufacture generic remdesivir without a license from Gilead, increasing affordable access to the drug. The company may also export the drug to other countries without patent barriers.

Gilead has recently made deals with five companies in India and Pakistan, issuing voluntary non-exclusive licenses for these companies to produce generic remdesivir for 127 countries, but because it does not require a license from Gilead, the situation with Beximco is different and could have a more powerful impact on affordability.

Access Champions

Highlights from Week 7 Mission: What have we learned?

This week, as we approach the halfway mark of our campaign (more on that next week), we asked our participants to reflect on where they’re at and where they’d like support. We gave participants a list of campaign moments—like making contact with a target, or responding to another squad’s mission report—so they could evaluate their progress and feel proud of their involvement! We also asked them to provide some feedback for the project management team regarding what strategic exercises they’d like to do more of, or where they need help. And we had longtime student advocates with UAEM join our weekly webinar to present on the challenges they faced in getting universities to adopt policies supporting access to medicines, and let our participants know how they won. Meanwhile, our squads continued work on their actions, pushing for change and learning from each other. Here are a few highlights from this week:

The Bisons Dreamed Big

The Bisons’ new action came to Lab member Esh Garg in a dream. The Lab plans to create and send “Free The Vaccine” themed, hand-embroidered sleep masks to researchers, who can then take selfies with the masks to post to social media and show their support. Their first target is a scientist at UCSD who has been active on Twitter, is working on COVID-19 research, and specializes in sleep medicine! As you can probably tell, the action is based in part on the strategy of the Plants for COVID Research Champions action. And that’s amazing: our participants are learning from each other, building on each other’s work while adding new creative twists personalized to their targets. And they’re definitely applying lessons learned about positive activism, with an action that shows gratitude to researchers and taps into the importance of self-care during the pandemic.

A mock-up of how the sleep masks and their boxes will look!

The Wolverines Switched Things Up

Members of Wolverine are currently in conversations with universities across Canada—six universities, in fact! This week, they decided to do a target swap, with each member reaching out to one of the Wolverine targets they hadn’t been in personal contact with before. Each member reached out via a video message, Twitter, or the Plants for COVID Research Champions action.



Wolverine members made significant progress at McGill, meeting virtually with researcher Mark Weber, who plans to talk to the university’s senior leadership about the Open COVID Pledge this week. Karen Mossman of McMaster also responded positively for a second time, although without an update on McMaster’s position regarding the Open COVID Pledge. Regardless, the Wolverines’ progress this week feels like a response to the Seals’ question last week of how to turn attention into action: strategic follow-up. The “target swap” action allows a relatively small number of activists to increase pressure on a target by contacting them individually, and communicates that many members of the public are interested in seeing change.

The Bisons Got Animated

We’d like to highlight one more Bison squad this week! This team recently created a comic to send to a researcher at Indiana University (IU) who is working on a pediatric vaccine. The idea is to turn the comic into a template as well, so it can be modified for other researchers. The team has also successfully connected with other targets at IU, including law professor Fran Quigley, and the director of the IU Center for Bioethics; both were enthusiastic about the work Free The Vaccine is doing and interested in working together. This progress is so exciting, and raises the possibility of building a coalition of faculty within the university that can help put pressure on the relevant decision-makers.

As the squad emphasizes, the comic is creative, but also straightforward, simply laying out the team’s argument in visual form. Bison member Laura Holzman reflects in the Mission Report:

I’m intrigued that, so far, it appears we’ve had the most success from the most straightforward actions… I’d want to do some careful thinking about when a creative intervention is particularly valuable (and what kinds of creative actions are effective… although I realize so much of this is specific to the particular person/situation).

Again, we’re learning that the point of “creative” activism is to get out of the habit of actions that are boring and easily ignored—but that doesn’t have to mean making things difficult for ourselves, or creating a spectacle for the purpose of spectacle. It’s about getting our message across, and convincing the right people to make a change.

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