Over the past year, students from Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) have worked to develop a mapping tool that tracks public funding of research and development for COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.
Developed over the past year during the pandemic, the powerful and dynamic tool demonstrates the indispensable role of taxpayer money and public research institutions, especially universities, in the development of novel medical technologies. By visualizing where public funds are being directed, this tool enhances transparency regarding the significant public investment into COVID-19 research. It allows the public to hold recipients accountable to their moral responsibilities.
The mapping tool was first released in May 2020, and this release is an update which includes new data and more countries. “UAEM’s analysis boldly emphasizes the crucial role of public funds provided to public research institutions to innovate health technologies against COVID-19.”
April is turning out to be a BIG month for taking action and putting pressure on big pharma and governments (especially rich country governments) in our call for a People’s Vaccine!
What’s happening in April?
Pharma shareholder meetings and more meetings of the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Council to discuss waiver of COVID-19 vaccine monopolies give us an opportunity to ramp up pressure:
April 22 – Informal WTO TRIPS Council meeting
April 22 – J&J and Pfizer annual shareholder meetings
April 30 – Formal WTO TRIPS Council meeting
April 30 – AstraZeneca virtual shareholder event including Q&A w/CEO
May 5-6 – WTO General Council meeting
May 11 – AstraZeneca annual general meeting (closed-door)
What actions are being planned?
Actions on the ground
People’s Vaccine Alliance partners are organizing actions at pharma headquarters and other key locations. Sign up to stay up to date as plans come together. You can contact Emily Sanderson with any questions about US actions or if you want to organize an action where you are.
April 21 – April 30 (and beyond) – Jonas Salk Around the World Bring Jonas Salk and his scientific and philosophical spirit to as many places as possible to remind people of a role model who prioritized people’s well-being over profit.
April 21 – “Ask a CEO” Twitterstorm As shareholder meetings approach, we ask the CEOs of Big Pharma whether they will commit to (or why not?) sharing the science, tech and know how around their vaccines, to ensure everyone, everywhere can be vaccinated. Use the tool below to join the twitterstorm and check out #AskTheCEO on Twitter.
April 29 – Mobilising support for patent law reform locally and internationally An online discussion on overcoming barriers to medicines, vaccines, and medical tools for cancer, diabetes, HIV and TB, as well as COVID-19. This is even more important as the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS Council meets on 30 April to discuss the proposal to waive patents at the WTO by South Africa and India.
Read the letter and see the full list of signatories here.
On April 14, the People’s Vaccine Alliance sent a letter to The White House and to the US Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, signed by former Heads of State and Government and Nobel Laureates who expressed “[grave] concern by the very slow progress in scaling up global COVID-19 vaccine access and inoculation in low- and middle-income countries.”
The letter calls for urgency from the Biden Administration to “put the collective right to safety for all ahead of the commercial monopolies of the few.” This urgent action entails supporting temporary waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is openly shared through the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. Further, these key actions “should be accompanied by coordinated global investment in research, development, and manufacturing capacity to tackle this pandemic and prepare us for future ones, as part of a more robust international health architecture.”
The letter was launched in Financial Times and has seem an incredible amount of support and commentary. In an opinion piece in USA Today (and in El Pais in Spanish), President Juan Manuel Santos, former President of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, notes the “industrious role of the intellectual property system”, but shows why waiving COVID-19 monopolies is necessary alongside other asks. President Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, in The Times, called on EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders to suspend vaccine patents to end the pandemic.
175 former heads of state and government and Nobel Laureates from across the globe signed the letter.
On April 8 2020 Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 held it’s first online meeting. Since then we’ve had over 700 people participate in our campaign. We’ve don’e actions all over the world, had some pretty special folks stop by, and kept our eyes on the goal of achieving safe, effective, affordable vaccines for everyone across the globe. We asked a few of our participants to share some reflections of their time with Free the Vaccine over the past year, and here’s what they had to give…
Bringing together her art and her activism
Rachel Gita Karp shares:
When I joined Free the Vaccine in April 2020, I was an artist and an activist that was trying to tie the two aspects of my life together, but I wasn’t too sure if I was being particularly affective or effective in any of it.
But then in just the first few weeks, I took part in things I would never have considered possible.
Throughout that first season, Free the Vaccine was such a central part of my life. So I decided to try to make it more formally a part of my life–and more things I would never have considered possible happened: I became the Lead Project Manager for the campaign, and I also started working for one of its co-founders, the Center for Artistic Activism.
In the months that have followed, I’ve seen and supported hundreds of people like me–with a similar passion for bringing vital, systemic change to our world–join the campaign. Together we’ve learned about artistic activism and access to medicines and created immensely affective and effective actions that are making COVID-19 healthcare more equitable and accessible around the world.
Inspiration through tools and tactics of creative activism
Dannie Snyder, one of the minds behind the Dolly Parton Jolene parody video reflect on her evolution from artist to activist during her time with Free the Vaccine. See Dannie’s projects in our exhibit.
Hope and purpose through Free the Vaccine
From Sernah Essien – A little over one year ago, I hung up after an hour-long phone call with Merith, the executive director of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and a woman I’m proud to call a friend. We discussed with incredulity the speed in which life was changing in response to the pandemic. I probably sounded scared and unhinged (honestly, who didn’t then), but she didn’t comment on it. Instead, she told me about an idea she’d begun to work on, a virtual advocacy group that would advocate proactively to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine. We both knew the decades-long history of global inequity in access to medicines, so we seized the rare opportunity to organize for vaccine equity even before a vaccine was approved. Our goal was three-pronged: any COVID health technology should be made available to all, sustainably priced, and free at the point of delivery. With this goal in mind, we, as students and organizers in UAEM, launched the
Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 campaign on April 8, 2020, in conjunction with our creative collaborators, the Center for Artistic Activism.
In the year that I’ve been involved with Free the Vaccine, I’ve had my outlook on activism and organizing transformed. The campaign emphasizes the use of creative, culturally-informed tactics towards achieving our goals. As a fairly traditional “let’s-write-4-op-eds-and-organize-a-protest” activist, this emphasis was foreign to me and seemed like a waste of time. However, it is precisely our creative tactics that have allowed us to have the success and virality— no pun intended— we have had. Through music videos, collector cards, inflatable syringes, and more, we’ve brought visibility to the urgent issue of equitable access to COVID-19 health technologies and stoked conversation around man-made barriers to medicines and vaccines. Interestingly, encouraging creativity
in our actions enabled us to think creatively about our goals as well. During season 2, a participant suggested we target a group other than a university; though I was initially hesitant, I asked myself, “Why not?” I’ve learned there is no one way to build power or reach advocacy goals. That realization was liberating, and has enabled us to welcome hundreds of people from various backgrounds into our campaign.
Our work in this campaign has been as informed by powerful non-governmental bodies such as the World Health Organization as much as it has been by our community of participants spanning 6 continents.
Our global community has provided crucial context on how people within their countries perceive vaccines, have responded to the pandemic, and how the actions of particular countries influence many others.
Most importantly, this community has provided a practical example of global solidarity at work. In banding together to build power and convince institutions and governments alike to prioritize global solidarity in their response, we have literally and figuratively provided the blueprint for making it happen.
In a time where hope has not been constant and the distance between friendly faces feels infinitely large, Free the Vaccine has been crucial for my own sense of purpose and connectedness. From being a Wednesday night DJ to productive squad meetings, I have sourced an unexpected amount of joy and belonging from the former strangers involved in this campaign. These strangers turned comrades have pushed me forward, and I am confident we will continue to build our community and push each other forward until our vision is realized.
A few words from our wise counselors…
Members of the Free the Vaccine advisory group shared a few words too!
The question I’m asked with increasing frequency by journalists, historians, archivists and activists is, “Are there any similarities between HIV/AIDS and COVID-19, and are you aware of any activism surrounding this current pandemic?” I have a lot to say about the subject, and one of them is to brag about the fantastic global work being done by every one of you! Thank you for your amazing work this year, and for giving me such a clear direction to point them in. –Avram Finkelstein
Declan Sakuls gave it everything he had to be able to get the message of vaccine equity to the world! Don’t worry, he finally got there.
• 50% of the proceeds will go to Free The Vaccine, a global campaign launched by Universities Allied for Essential Medicines and the Center for Artistic Activism to ensure that taxpayer funded coronavirus vaccines are sustainably priced, available to all, and free at the point of delivery.
• 50% of the proceeds will go to the hard-working actors in our cast, many of whom are professionals who have had little or no opportunity to work since the beginning of the pandemic.
Written by Award Winning Screenwriter Taylor Anthony Hopkins (Creative World Awards, Screencraft Awards)
Featuring Actors Jojo Nwoko (NCIS: Los Angeles, The Kids Are Alright), Tamika Simpkins (The Wire, Grace and Frankie, Dispatches from Elsewhere)
Cast: (Listed Alphabetically) Rahne Avant | Alexander Bewkes | Sheree Grate | Riley Holland | Gavin Johnson | Jojo Nwoko | Vip Paruthi | Morgan Ramey | Tamika Simpkins | Preston Ward | Andrew Wofford
The Free The Vaccine Exhibit – Creativity vs. COVID : Ending The Pandemic for Good – is now being hosted by its first in-person venue at the University of Maine. The intermedia program began hosting the virtual exhibit in February, which built community interest in advance of the March 1 opening of the physical exhibition. “The Intermedia program at the University of Maine is honored to be the first host institution for this exhibition; as we watch the rollout of the vaccine proceed and recognize how vital it is to ourselves and communities across the globe.” said Dr. Susan Smith, Director of Intermedia MFA Program at the University of Maine.
Creativity vs. COVID is currently set up in the exhibit space, where they have video pieces from the exhibit projected on the wall, in addition to the physical pieces displayed. They also have plans for an outdoor projection of a piece of the exhibit to happen later this month.
The exhibit has also elicited exciting engagement from the community at the University of Maine, who have added three new projects to the exhibit to date. These projects will join the exhibit, and travel with it to it’s next host venue. We are very excited to see the exhibit come to life physically for the very first time, and eagerly anticipate the future host venues of Creativity vs. COVID.
Big Pharma executives, in their pursuit of profits during a pandemic have had a great 2020, putting profits over people while the pandemic disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable people among us. To this we say “Thank you Big Pharma for being so consistent in profitizing a pandemic and leading us further away from global vaccine equity!” See this on instagram.
On the anniversary of the WHO’s declaration of COVID-19 a pandemic, we called for a People’s Vaccine!
Standing in global solidarity, activists worldwide took to the streets on March 11 to decry vaccine apartheid and to demand global vaccine equity.
Supporters of the People’s Vaccine participated in a rally for global solidarity against vaccine apartheid in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is home to a heavy concentration of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Here, they make their demands in front of the Moderna offices.
Wealthy countries are vaccinating their populations at increasing rates, but some poorer nations may not have access to COVID-19 vaccines until 2023.
Cape Town & Johannesburg
In Cape Town and Johannesburg, activists gathered at the head offices of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to demand an end to patents and a People’s Vaccine.
To fix this inequity–this injustice–these publicly-funded vaccines should be a global public good, available to everyone, everywhere.
New York City
In New York City, activists protested at the headquarters of Pfizer, who has made billions on this pandemic.
Pharmaceutical companies must share their technology and know-how with the world & governments must agree to waive patent monopolies.
Activists in the Philadelphia area visited the main Pfizer offices in the region to demand that the company use every possible means to make its vaccines available worldwide.
To do this, companies can join the COVID Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and governments can support a proposal at the WTO to remove patent barriers (TRIPS waiver).
Across the UK, organizers called for a People’s Vaccine with demonstrations in London, including at the offices of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, and at the AstraZeneca offices in Cambridge.
But they don’t. Profit continues to take precedent over people, and vaccine inequity deepens, putting millions of lives at risk.
In Washington, DC activists rallied in front of the offices of PhRMA, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical lobbies, to demand that pharmaceutical companies put people over profit and share their COVID-19 technology and know-how with the world.
This is why we continue our demand for a People’s Vaccine!
At the Global Rally for a People’s Vaccine Netty Prasetiyani, member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia, called our attention to the human right to health, guaranteed in international law and in the constitutions of many countries. Ms. Prasetiyani called on her government to prioritize public health and human lives by supporting the waiver of patent monopolies at the World Trade Organization to scale up production of vaccines globally.