Access Champions

Highlights from Week 12 Mission: Engage the Public

This week, our participants’ mission was to engage the public. That means reworking posters using detailed feedback from Avram Finkelstein, posting on social media to increase individual sign-on to the Open COVID Pledge (note: if you’re reading this and haven’t signed on yet, take a minute to go do so!), and directing our energies to one of three new labs specifically focused on public engagement:

  • The Cama Lab (that’s camel + llama, yes), to brainstorm social media tactics
  • The DogOwl Lab, for creating and refining posters and images
  • and The Narluga Lab, which is developing the traveling exhibit for our posters!
DogOwls, pictured in the wild.

Meanwhile, our existing Labs are thinking about how they can incorporate public engagement into their current work. For example…

The Bisons Use Their Partnerships

A couple weeks ago, we told you that the Bisons were developing relationships with the library and the Center for Bioethics at Indiana University. Thanks to their connections with the library, they’re now reaching out to all the researchers in IUPUI’s Open Access Repository COVID-19 collection to ask them to sign the petition supporting the OCP. Bison member Laura Holzmann is now also part of a campus-wide group dedicated to open science, and has asked the faculty governance group focused on research to add “open science and COVID-19” to their fall agenda. Finally, the group is working with the Center for Bioethics on a public-facing article for the Center’s new website on bioethics and the pandemic!

The Dolphins Craft… A Giant Syringe

Yes, you read that right, and this six foot syringe made by Greg Giannis is only a prototype! Stay tuned as the team works to scale up this sculpture to place on the grounds of the University of Melbourne and hopefully drum up some great press for the campaign. The team is also trying to incorporate lessons learned from Avram and the DogOwl Lab as they think about text and creative messaging to use on the side of the sculpture!

Looking Forward to Phase Two

As we near the end of the first phase of the Free The Vaccine campaign, with three weeks left, we’re having our participants reflect on what they’ve learned and how we can make Phase Two even more effective. We will not lose momentum between phases one and two. We’ll be taking everything we’ve created over the sixteen weeks of this incredible campaign and using it to increase our momentum and our impact in the fall! For now, we have the following internal goals as we ramp our efforts up in the last few weeks:

Thanks for keeping up with us, and here’s another reminder to sign on to the Open COVID Pledge as an individual if you haven’t had the chance yet!

Take Action

Take Action: Help Us Tweet!

Got three minutes to help our team?

One of our Seal squads, based in Europe, had the idea to create a “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Scientists” book to celebrate COVID-19 researchers and advocate for the Open COVID Pledge at the same time! They’ve completed a beautiful portrait and profile for a scientist named Hanneke Schuitemaker, and now they need your help getting her attention.

With just a few minutes of your time, you can help our team. Here’s a sample tweet to get you started:

@SchuitemakerH We’re writing a profile of you to enter in the book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Scientists because of your work to make a COVID vaccine. But we need your help to finish the story! Please DM @fullyfiona to start a convo on how we can work together to #FreeTheVaccine

Want to make your tweet stand out even more? Add some images from the upcoming book!

In the Media

Op-Ed in STAT News On How HHS Can Make Remdesivir Affordable

A new op-ed in STAT News by Chris Morten, Christian Urrutia, and James Krellenstein explains how an existing legal tool called government patent use could be used by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase competition and drive down the price of remdesivir:

A little-known but powerful law could let HHS address these twin problems of supply and pricing in one fell swoop. 28 U.S.C. § 1498 allows federal agencies to take control of industry owned patents using a tool known as government patent use. Essentially, government patent use would let HHS control both the manufacturing and distribution of remdesivir by simply paying compensation to Gilead for the use of its patents.

HHS could license remdesivir manufacturing to multiple competing drug manufacturers, which would provide adequate supply while pushing prices down. Patients and payers would pay low prices for remdesivir, close to its manufacturing costs. HHS’s intervention would increase competition, not hinder it.

Meanwhile, Gilead would still be rewarded for its contributions to the development of remdesivir, as Gilead can go to court to collect the “reasonable and entire compensation” to which it is entitled under law for the government’s use of Gilead’s patents. (The court-awarded “reasonable and entire compensation” is typically a market-rate royalty, which could be worth tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.) Everybody wins.


Week 12: What’s happening in the world of the vaccine?

A High Price for Remdesivir

On June 29th, Gilead announced that in the United States, its coronavirus drug remdesivir will be priced at $520 per vial—$3,120 per treatment—for private buyers, Medicare, and Medicaid. For other United States government programs and for other high-income countries, remdesivir will cost $390 per vial, or $2,340 per treatment. Remdesivir has received $70 million in public funding, and Gilead’s price is 10 times the cost-effective price suggested by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review for a drug with no mortality benefit. Let’s not forget that Gilead’s CEO takes home a salary of over $30 million.

Treatment Nationalism

A day later, reports came out that the United States government had bought up over 500,000 doses of remdesivir, the entire world’s supply for the next three months at least. Although remdesivir has not been shown to reduce coronavirus deaths, studies suggest the drug can reduce recovery time, meaning it has the potential to decrease the burden on the health system. Regardless of remdesivir’s effectiveness, the “America First” approach the United States has taken is obviously unjust, and a concerning precedent as the world waits for a vaccine.

High-Profile US Leaders Support A Free Vaccine

Senator Bernie Sanders has been vocal in his support for a free vaccine for a while now, but another former Democratic presidential candidate has joined him in that stance. Pete Buttigieg tweeted this week that “when there is a vaccine for COVID-19 it needs to be available for everyone – and at no cost.”

In the Media

Op-Ed in WBUR on what we can learn from the AIDS crisis, plus a shoutout to Free The Vaccine

Don’t miss this fantastic piece by Michael Caron McGuill in WBUR’s Cognoscenti on what we can learn from ACT UP’s history, and why we need a free vaccine. McGuill writes:

One campaign fighting for global access and a free vaccine, Free the Vaccine, represents 29 countries and two organizations, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines and the Center for Artistic Activism. Another is Lower Drug Prices Now, a U.S. coalition of nearly 60 social justice organizations.

My greatest hope is that when vaccines do arrive, they’ll be available first to those at greatest risk. In the U.S., that’s the elderly, the underinsured, the incarcerated, the homeless, the working class, health-care workers and first-responders, immigration detainees, racial minorities and those with high-risk medical conditions.

If our elected officials won’t ensure equitable, moral access to national and global life-saving vaccines, we must demand it.

In the Media

Op-Ed in Jacobin on Remdesivir and Public Funding

A new op-ed by David Sirota in Jacobin Magazine discusses the sky-high price tag on remdesivir and the $70 million Gilead received in public funding to develop it, calling for the use of Section 1498 and Bayh-Dole march-in rights to make medicines including remdesivir affordable. He writes:

The executive branch could invoke a long-standing patent law known as Section 1498.

“Section 1498 is a tool that the government once wielded with some frequency to tame high drug prices,” wrote Boston University’s Rena Conti and former pharmaceutical executive Paul Kleutghen in 2019. “It was used routinely by federal agencies in the 1960s and early 1970s to obtain cheaper generic drugs. Its use has waned as the pharmaceutical industry’s power grew. In 1965, the pharmaceutical lobby tried and failed to amend Section 1498 to limit the law only to instances that implicated ‘national security.’ Government officials strongly opposed any change that would ‘forgo one of the valuable powers which the Government has to assure fair prices and to remedy ‘exorbitant pricing.’ The rule remains intact today.”

Take Action

Take Action: Sign on individually to the Open COVID Pledge!

As we work to get institutions to sign onto the Open Covid Pledge, many have expressed the wish that they could add their own names in a gesture of public support, showing their institutions that they care and want to see action for a free vaccine. We’re excited to share that this is now possible!

Head on over to this page, scroll down, and add your name. It only takes a few seconds, but it’s something to be proud of today.

Access Champions

Highlights from Week 11: Meet Dannie and Stacy

Each week, you’ve gotten to see the work our incredible activists are doing to free the vaccine. This week, we’d like to introduce you to two of them: Dannie Snyder of Austin, Texas, and Stacy Early of Memphis, Tennessee! Dannie and Stacy are members of the Coyote-5 squad, which is comprised of activists across the American South.

Meet Dannie

Dannie Snyder on Access to Medicines

A musician, theater practitioner, filmmaker, and poet, Dannie is also the recipient of Free The Vaccine’s very prestigious “Best Costume on Video Call” award. (We like to be goofy on calls, what can I say?)

Meet Stacy

An animal activist and artist with five rescue dogs, Stacy brings equal parts compassion and creativity to her work with the Free The Vaccine campaign! (One of our most active threads in the forum, by the way, is for participants to post pictures of their pets… as it should be.)

Now that you’ve met Dannie and Stacy, read on for what they’ve learned so far and what they’d like to share with fellow activists! This portion of their interviews have been condensed slightly for ease of reading.

What made you decide to join the Free The Vaccine campaign?

Dannie: When I got the email to join the Free The Vaccine campaign, it was kind of a no-brainer. I mean I was alone, in quarantine, freaking out a little bit, and then I got this email that was like, Hey, instead of freaking out, why don’t you do this thing that’s really productive, and you could be helping yourself and the whole world? Like I mentioned before, I was really intimidated by access to medicines, it was very outside of my comfort zone, so I just knew—yes, this is your calling… And one thing that’s great about the campaign is they’re really flexible. They totally understand that life is life, and because we’re [organized into] different squads and different Labs, we can designate responsibilities based off of our skill sets. It’s always very clear what the expectations are, what our deadlines are, and there’s no judgment when we have to ask for help.

What’s your most unique skill that’s come in handy during this campaign?

Stacy: I think one of the most useful skills I have put to use in this is my persistence. You can do all the research you want and spend time planning and do all these projects and then the people that you’re trying to approach or target might still not get back to you… but if you can just be persistent and have fun with it, it’s all completely worthwhile.

What’s the most useful lesson you’ve learned from your work so far?

Stacy: The most useful lesson I’ve learned in all of this is to really research the people you want to approach, or your targets. I didn’t realize that getting a sense of their interests and personality would make such a difference, but it really can when you’re trying to approach them creatively and not just with a normal letter or normal email.

Dannie: I would say the most useful lesson in this campaign has been understanding the pipeline from scientific research to medication and the vaccine. Understanding that pipeline, and then having the vocabulary for that pipeline. I think there are a lot of liberal and left campaigns where it’s cool and hip to support them, and people jump on these bandwagons before really doing the research and thinking critically… With access to medicines, I had to give myself a few weeks to just research, and I was able to take all of that [material provided by the campaign], and figure out: with my background, within this pipeline, where can I be the most effective?

What’s the coolest idea you’ve gotten or skill you’ve learned from another participant?

Dannie: As far as ideas about how to target people, how to really inspire them to change, the idea that I’ve been most drawn to is the idea of craftivism. I’m totally about artivism—art and activism—in fact, I’ve just spent two years getting a master’s in theories about art and activism, and now I’m finally getting to apply those theories. But I had kind of underestimated the idea of crafting, the idea of making something unique and precious for a target specifically. So instead of making a banner for the whole world to see, making a scarf for one person, and embroidering on it a message. I’m using an example from Sarah Corbett, I think she’s the one who coined this term. I think of all the times people made me a gift and how special it made me feel, and now I’m doing it for [our targets]. I think of my work in restorative justice, and this is totally tapping into that, tapping into empathy, and how to take the anger that we feel in activism and how to transform it and make it fuel. Right now I’m making a gift box for my targets, it’s going to be gift-wrapped, it’s going to have bows and color, it’s going to have things in it which I’ve made personally, which I can show you…

At this point in the video, Dannie showed off a beautiful mask she’s made. Here’s a picture of her wearing it!

Stacy: Way too hard to choose! This is an amazing group of 300 creatives, activists, scientists from around the world. Just the fact that all these people have come together for one project is pretty amazing. The willingness to brainstorm and help each other out, contribute, and hop into one group when they have a skill that that group can use… I’m pretty impressed with absolutely everyone and feel really honored to be able to work with them. For a specific project though, if I had to pick one I think it would be the “Jolene” song parody. I live in Tennessee, so a little partial. But also, I liked how that came together. People in so many different states are working on that, and again, no one knew each other before. So that’s pretty amazing!

Thanks for reading the first spotlight on our wonderful team! We hope to continue sharing individual experiences and insights with you in the remaining weeks of the campaign.

Op-Ed in The Nation Calls for a People’s Vaccine

A new piece in The Nation by Ady Barkan and Zain Rizvi calls for a vaccine that “belongs to the people,” discussing the dangers of patent monopolies and the need for publicly funded medicines to be fairly priced. They write:

Like Salk, Bancel has benefited greatly from public dollars. His corporation received millions in funding as early as 2013 to help develop its new way of making vaccines. Federal scientists helped design the new Covid-19 vaccine and are now running the critical human tests. The government also just gave $483 million to scale manufacturing. The public is paying at every stage for this potential vaccine—and so many others. All five candidates Trump is expected to short-list have benefited from public funding.

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for Big Pharma to find it in its heart to be benevolent. We can force executives to be like Salk. The US government has the authority, under existing law, to break patent monopolies. In exchange for a modest royalty, the government can and should allow any manufacturer to produce promising Covid-19 medicines. The government threatened to use the approach to lower prices for a critical antibiotic when letters containing anthrax spores were sent to media outlets and the offices of Democratic Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy in 2001. The government should also require companies to share know-how, and ramp up public production for promising medicines. All contracts should safeguard affordability and availability for all.

Take Action

EVENT 6/26: Free The Vaccine at Global Change Days

We will be hosting a session on Free The Vaccine this Friday at 2 pm EST, at the online Global Change Days conference! You can get tickets for the whole conference on the website, and we hope to see you there.