What the Current COVID-19 Vaccine Trials Cannot Tell Us

For almost an entire year now, all eyes have been focusing on research to find a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19. What are these clinical trials really measuring?

Peter Doshi of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reports that the current Phase III vaccine trials are not inherently designed to prove the two things that an antiviral vaccine is supposed to do. First, it should “reduce the likelihood you will get severely ill and go to the hospital” and secondly, it must “prevent infection and therefore interrupt disease transmission.”

Nevertheless, none of the current Phase III trials are set up to detect reductions in serious outcomes, including the number of hospital admissions, the use or necessity of intensive care, or deaths. The vaccines are also not being studied to see if they can interrupt the transmission of the virus.

So what are the current vaccines really doing? Read more from the BMJ here.


South Africa, COVID-19, and the MMR Vaccine

According to Global Citizen, researchers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in South Africa have recently launched a trial to test to see if a vaccine given for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) can serve as an effective defense against COVID-19.

While the new effort is not an attempt to hinder current vaccine research, scientists are hoping to use it to protect individuals, like frontline healthcare workers, who have a higher probability of exposure to the vaccine than most.

Countries involved in this research effort include South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, USA, UK, and more. Read more about the vaccine trial here.

News Take Action

10/21: Join Us for a Funk Rally!

What do you get when you put lab coats with a message, 70’s fashion, and brightly-colored formal attire in a room with activists pushing for a People’s Vaccine? A Funk Rally!

Save The Date: October 21st

On October 21st, join us and our allies in Washington D.C. for our first Funk Rally for a COVID-19 Vaccine. The rally will start around 12:30pm EST at 100 Maryland Avenue SW, and end around 4:30pm EST across from the African American History Museum. Join us for a short march to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to demand that all people have access to a tested, safe, and effective COVID-19 vaccine. See more information in the flyer above.

The Event

The event will begin with a Moment of Silence and Opening Procession to honor the lives lost to COVID-19 this year. The event will also include a Funk Rally down Independence Avenue. Our goal is to build momentum. We will end with closing remarks at the Washington Monument and a Global Dance Circle! We are rallying to celebrate life and encourage our institutions to do better and provide a People’s Vaccine. Think bright colors — come in your semi-formal, disco, or the fanciest party attire that you can find.

Last but not least — bring your dancing skills, your friends and family, and your masks!

Access Champions News

Meet a Free the Vaccine Participant: Zeph

Zeph has been a visual artist and also an activist for most of their adult life. They came out of a visual arts background and have worked a lot with grassroots social movements. They spend a lot of time in the streets doing creative, direct action! Read more for wisdom from one of our Season 1 and 2 participants!

What does artistic activism mean to you? 

When I think of artistic activism, I think about bringing creative approaches to campaigns— specifically working with social movements that have concrete goals and objectives, and figuring out creative ways to meet those objectives. I also think about ways to bring radical imagining and more artistic methods to build radical imaginations and sustain communities in a way they are able to continue moving forward. They should be able to build the type of world that they want to be in. I think that it can be a larger goal than for a specific campaign; it can be about building those imaginative muscles. 

Why did you choose to join the Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 campaign?  

I joined because I have been following the work of the Center for Artistic Activism for a while, and I was curious as to how they collaborate their methodologies for working with social justice groups. I wanted to participate in their project and I had less connection to the access to medicines movement. The interesting thing about being in the project is working with students who are really committed to access to medicines. Their set of knowledge and skills and their own understanding of the issue— figuring out how I can bring my creative skillset into the picture to bring those things together feels powerful. 

In your eyes, what are some of the most meaningful moments or actions from the campaign so far?

In our first season, the group that I was working with specifically targeted one researcher. We made him a beautiful, customized sleep mask for him as a gift to try to pique his interest. It did not work— one of the lessons we learned was that they put a lot of effort into one individual. For the new efforts in Season 2, we want to reach an individual who is a decision maker at Arizona, but also somebody who has the ability to reach a wider audience. There is a potential to not only move him, but also use the same approach to talk to students, faculty, and staff at ASU who hopefully will have some attachment to the creative tactics they are using. 

Ideally, what do you hope for other participants, and yourself, to get out of the campaign?

I hope that students who are new to creative advocacy get excited about this approach and start applying it to all the interesting work that they are passionate about. The more people that are thinking creatively about how they can achieve the goals that they are imagining, the more effective work will be happening. It is exciting to see other people getting excited about these tools. For me, it is good practice to be thinking about ways to come with the creative toolset and really collaborate with people who are well-versed in the issues. It is a chance to sharpen my collaborative toolkit. 

See some artwork from Zeph’s website below. Check out their website for more!


Vaccine Nationalism: A Deeper Dive

Throughout the past few weeks, you may have heard us throwing around the term “vaccine nationalism.”  What we at the People’s Vaccine are fighting for is a safe and effective vaccine for everyone, everywhere. Vaccine nationalism defeats this purpose: this is why. 

Vaccine nationalism refers to when countries make efforts to secure supplies of vaccines for their own residents and citizens before they can be made available to other countries. For example, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have engaged in billions of dollars worth of deals with Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca, pharmaceutical companies holding promising vaccine candidates, before the vaccines were even proven to be safe and/or effective. These deals are meant to secure vaccine doses for each respective country, without paying much attention to the impact that these practices can have on countries who cannot afford to give billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies.

A briefing from CBC News referred to the dangers of vaccine nationalism as having the potential to prolong the pandemic by inhibiting the ability of the vaccine to reach individuals who need it most. The Chief of the World Health Organization Tedros Ghebreyesus said on Thursday that vaccine nationalism must be prevented, given that “sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in each country’s interest.” Countermeasures to vaccine nationalism have risen, a prominent one being the COVAX Facility, a global effort to distribute the shots globally while making sure that low- and middle-income countries receive adequate doses as well. 

Read more here if you are interested in learning about either vaccine nationalism or the COVAX Facility. 


India and South Africa demand Access for Everyone, Everywhere

As we get (hopefully) closer to a safe and effective vaccine, conversations about “intellectual property” rights and access to the COVID-19 vaccine around the world continue to fill the news. Whether you are taking part in the Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 campaign or cheering on from the sidelines, experiencing the dilemmas and distrust that plague the world of vaccine nationalism can be disheartening.

From grueling statistics about the global mortality rate of COVID-19 to international conflicts, it can be exhausting to keep up with everything that is happening in the world– so we are here to do what we do. Give you some good (and hopeful) news. 

It is always encouraging to hear of other entities who are pushing for the same cause that we are. After all, what we are asking for is simple: a vaccine funded by the people should be available to all people, everyone and everywhere. Especially given the scale of the pandemic and its disproportionate burden on low- and middle- income countries (LMICs,) it is important that we advocate for their access rights in addition to the right to access a COVID-19 vaccine. India and South Africa reached out to The World Trade Organization, a supranational organization that deals with international trade, to demand that monopolies don’t not stand in the way of access in LMICs. 

We won’t take you through all the details, but point #3 states: 

“Given this present context of global emergency, it is important for WTO Members to work together to ensure that intellectual property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines.”

If you are interested in reading more, access the whole document from the World Trade Organization here

Around the world, there is a call for solidarity and support. You can see the importance of our work at Free the Vaccine for COVID-19– fighting for a People’s Vaccine everywhere is the only way to make sure that we can truly mitigate the effects of this pandemic. Keep educating yourself– use your voice and your art and your platform to demand a People’s Vaccine with us.

In the Media News

A People’s Vaccine: The Global Call

COVID-19 survivors around the world have united to call for a People’s Vaccine

The People’s Vaccine alliance, a coalition of organizations and world leaders (including Free the Vaccine for COVID-19!), is a global call for a free and accessible COVID-19 vaccine, a people’s vaccine. 

An Open Letter

On September 28th, over one thousand COVID-19 survivors, along with family members and susceptible individuals, signed an open letter to pharmaceutical corporations, demanding that they leave their monopoly-seeking greed behind as the world struggles to fight and recover from a virus that has already taken the lives of over one million individuals worldwide.

The letter asks that corporations immediately license any intellectual property rights related to vaccine technologies to the WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP). By doing so, Oxfam, UNAIDS, Free the Vaccine for COVID-19, and other organizations involved in the alliance are calling on governments around the world to keep diagnostic tools, treatments, and vaccines for COVID-19 away from the restrictive world of patents. 

A Video Message from COVID-19 Survivors

Today, the alliance launched the official People’s Vaccine website, along with an incredible video made by COVID-19 survivors advocating for a free and accessible vaccine for everyone, everywhere. We need your help in getting it out — keep sharing the video via the People’s Vaccine Twitter and Facebook!


This Week in Vaccine News

Last week, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine entered its next phase of its Research & Development life: Phase 3 trials. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine joins Moderna and Pfizer as well as several other vaccine candidates worldwide in taking the next step to help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic — testing their product on thousands of healthy volunteers.

However, as pharmaceutical companies continue to spit out promising candidates for a safe and effective vaccine, experts are urging them to wait for more data on the safety of the vaccine before proceeding to seek FDA authorization. Their sentiments are echoed at Free the Vaccine for COVID-19, where our work revolves around vaccines, diagnostic tools, and treatments that have been proven to be safe and effective. You can read more about the 60 leading bioethicists and researchers who are urging Pfizer to hold off until November on seeking FDA approval here.

Take Action

Attend a COVID-19 Access Webinar!

Alliance for Health Policy Event: COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment 

As we continue to see news outlets infiltrated with concerns and progress regarding a COVID-19 vaccine, the lack of transparency about access becomes more prominent. If you are interested in gaining more insight into vaccine accessibility and potential schemes for vaccine deployment, the Alliance for Health Policy is holding an event on September 30th, 2020. Panelists will be discussing the manufacturing, distribution, delivery, and coverage techniques that would allow for the United States to have nationwide COVID-19 vaccine access. For those interested in attending, more information and a registration link can be found here. 

The event features four members: Richard Hughes, Esther Krofah, Nicolette Louissaint, and Reed Tuckson. Hughes is the Managing Director and Vaccines and Preventive Services Leader at Avalere Health; Krofah is the Executive Director of FasterCures; Louissaint is the Executive Director of Healthcare Ready, and Reed Tuckson is the Managing Director for Tuckson is the Board Chair for the Alliance for Health Policy. 

Season 2 Week 2 Podcast for Free the Vaccine for COVID-19

For those who are unaware, the Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 Campaign recently launched a weekly News Podcast to update you on what’s happening in the world of the vaccine. You can access the latest episode for Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 week 2 here! (We’ll have an official podcast feed up soon.)

In the Media News

Op-Ed: I volunteered to be a human guinea pig for a Covid vaccine

Image from The Guardian

Thomas Gokey is a current Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 participant and a Phase 3 trial volunteer. Since Phase 3 trials for COVID-19 vaccines have begun accepting participants, thousands across the globe have been volunteering to help science learn if a vaccine is safe and effective for larger public use. Have you ever wondered how these volunteers feel about access to a COVID-19 vaccine?

I am willing to risk my life to make humanity safer — not to make Big Pharma richer or to create a vaccine only for Americans.

Thomas Gokey in the Guardian

In a recent Op-Ed published in the Guardian, Thomas Gokey shares his thoughts as an insider — a volunteer for a COVID-19 vaccine trial — who had second thoughts on his decision to participate in the clinical trial. Gokey noted “I am willing to risk my life to make humanity safer — not to make Big Pharma richer or to create a vaccine only for Americans.” Gokey’s concerns were influenced in part by the U.S. decision to not join Covax, an effort linked to the World Health Organization (WHO) to distribute a coronavirus vaccine globally. Be sure to read the full Op-Ed here.

We admire Thomas both for for his generosity and his critical eye when it comes to Phase 3 trials and his participation in Free the Vaccine for COVID-19.