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.


Thousands of Lives, Millions of Masks, Billions of Dollars

Image from CNN Politics 

200,000 lives. September 22nd marked 200,000 lives documented to be lost to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States alone. Globally, 31,364,008 individuals have been infected and 965,691 lives have been lost to a pandemic that shook the world by surprise. Officials from the Trump Administration, including Donald Trump himself, have been boasting about their mitigation efforts in “preventing” a second wave. Let’s take a look at some of the actions at the U.S. government has taken so far to  help “prevent” a second wave: 

The Pentagon’s Wish List

Earlier this year, Congress passed the $3 trillion CARES Act, which provided economic assistance to families and small businesses while working to preserve jobs and American industries. Among many components, the CARES act provided $1 billion in funding to the Pentagon to procure medical technologies and assist the United States in supplying medical necessities (masks, ventilators, etc) to hospitals and institutions in dire need of supplies: a matter of life and death. Nevertheless, the Pentagon used taxpayer money — 1,000,000,000 in taxpayer dollars that is — to fulfill their own shopping lists, buying everything from Army dress uniform fabric to airplane parts. Not exactly what the United States needed to prevent the second wave, right? Read more about the Pentagon’s wish list here

A USPS Plan Butchered

In addition, the United States Postal Service, or USPS, has been a hot topic of conversation for the past few months, especially given their ever-increasing role in the 2020 United States Elections. This past week revealed to us that the USPS had plans to distribute 650 million face masks  in April to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic — you can probably guess what happens next. A potentially life-saving action that would have provided protective gear to hundreds of millions of Americans was blocked by the Trump Administration in order to avoid “creating panic.” 

With top-level officials in the United States government struggling to understand the value of American lives, the race to uncover safe and effective vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 faces more pressure. Trump may be boasting about vaccine development under his administration’s watch, but the truth is, nobody knows what the data will reveal in upcoming months. Not even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

So no, Donald Trump, you did not stop the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why activists at Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 and other organizations around the world are fighting to make sure that everyone can access a vaccine to end this pandemic, a pandemic that has taken almost one million lives from us.

Access Champions In the Media

The Human Rights Defender: Ishtar Lakhani

Photo of Ishtar Lakhani from Chris Collingridge (Maverick Citizen)

Have you heard the news? A new avenger was just added— the human rights defender. Having participated in both Season 1 and Season 2, she just happens to be a key member of our Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 team. Ishtar Lakhani was recently highlighted as Maverick Citizen’s Friday Activist where her work involving many social justice projects around the globe was covered. 

Ishtar told the crew at Maverick Citizen that her mission is to “break new ground through creativity, humour, and play — putting the ‘fun’ in fundamental rights.” Sound familiar? As an alum of the Center for Artistic Activism, one of the collaborators for the Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 Campaign, Ishtar’s passion lies in creative activism and she brings her knowledge and expertise to advocacy work across several continents.

Ishtar exemplified her work in social justice and creative activism with an ongoing project in Australia. She is working with an organization to help raise awareness about the evolution of women’s rights from the 1920s to now by creating a “real life time machine” that would transport people back to the 1920s. Originally from South Africa, Ishtar has also worked as an advocacy manager for the Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), where she fought to decriminalize sex work in South Africa. 

Be sure to check out the rest of the piece highlighting the work that our own resident “freelance troublemaker” Ishtar does here. And keep coming back to hear more about the incredible individuals that make up the Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 team! 


Season 2 Episode 1: Podcasts, Pledges, and a People’s Vaccine

Season Kickoff of Free the Vaccine 

This week we had our first meeting with a new wave of volunteers. Participants learned who we are, what we do, and spoke to each other for a few minutes about our excitement for the campaign! Our new group is aged from under 18 to over 65, from 24 countries on every continent except Antarctica, and working in fields from economics, to medicine, to music, and education. In addition, we are happy to announce we have officially partnered with the Arts Corps as one of the leading organizations behind Free the Vaccine for COVID-19!

As always, Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 emphasizes an audience-driven, experiment-informed approach that strives to empower individuals to employ the creative tactics we teach during weekly meetings in their advocacy work. And we walk the walk. While most hour-long zoom calls end in snoozing (or boozing), Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 meetings have a surprising element. The end of our last meeting in July became the Season Finale and participants got one striking cliffhanger in the form of a soap opera developed by our team ending with a “Who Shot J.R.” moment. Mid-way through our first meeting, “The Season Premiere” on Wednesday, attendees saw the soap opera return with Nurse Merith, “S.L.”, Rebecca, an Evil Rebecca, and Dr. James Miles. The mystery continues…

These elements of our meetings – soap operas, awards, game shows – remind our participants that we appreciate the hard work and time they are dedicating to our campaign, and most importantly, that keeping things fun keeps our group’s vitality up, especially when the issues we’re facing are dire.

The Week in Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 Podcast

One of the exciting new developments this season is our introduction of a news podcast available to everyone no matter your involvement in the campaign. This will soon be a public podcast feed, but you can get a sneak preview of the first episode here — stay tuned for more updates!

Vaccine Development 

If you are new to Free the Vaccine, or even if you need a recap, you may be wondering what is happening in the world of vaccine development. While tens of hundreds of scientists around the world have been pooling their resources to develop a vaccine, a few have advanced to Phase 3 trials, in which vaccines are administered to thousands of people and infection rates are compared with a placebo. Updates on the current Phase 3 vaccine trials can be found here. Our job now is to use our skills and training to make sure pharmaceutical greed does not keep these vaccines out of the public’s reach, if they are proven safe and effective.