Take Action

Take Action: Tell Us What You Love

If you read this newsletter, we have two things to say. One, we love you! And two, we want to know what you love.

Has a particular Free The Vaccine action inspired you? Do you wake up every Friday excited for the Special Bonus Content in this newsletter? Would you like to see a deeper dive into vaccine-related news, or into our participants’ crafting process? Do you think we should be taking to the streets—like we did in our London Carnival March—more often?

We want to hear from you, and you can email us at!

Access Champions

WATCH: Video from the London Carnival March for a People’s Vaccine!

Watch this video of the march, set to our viral “Jolene” parody track!

The Seal Lab organized this incredible march of 30 demonstrators—the maximum number allowed to gather—in London this past week! From the creative costumes to the brilliant UAEM banner, we’re seeing so much inspiration for future demonstrations. Check out the video and share with your friends!

The march was covered by the BBC (listen to the recording here) as well as in The Telegraph:

And everyone had a great time, as you can tell from the pictures below!

Free vaccines fighting the virus–for the whole world!
Access Champions

Meet Izzy and Mahima

This week, we’d like to introduce you to two more members of our wonderful Free The Vaccine community: Izzy Levine and Mahima Arya, who are both from New Jersey! Izzy and Mahima are members of the Fox Lab, which is comprised of activists mostly from the Eastern part of the United States. They’ve been working to target the University of Pittsburgh!

Meet Izzy

Izzy Levine: McGill University student, artist, and activist

A psychology student at McGill University, Izzy has helped to build up the McGill chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, and has years of experience in the access to medicines movement; she was instrumental in getting McGill to adopt UAEM’s Global Access Licensing Framework. Izzy is a musician and artist, and has traveled as far as Guatemala to work on public health issues!

Meet Mahima

Mahima Arya: Carnegie Mellon University graduate, technologist, and designer

A recent graduate who studied Information Systems and Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University, Mahima is passionate about accessible and inclusive technology. She loves to travel, and she once traveled solo in Cambodia for a week and visited Angkor Wat!

Now that you’ve met Izzy and Mahima, 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?

Izzy: The obvious answer is that because I was involved in UAEM, and haven’t been at school for a while, this was a great way to continue to do UAEM-related stuff. But I think it felt like a really important moment–UAEM’s been working on drug pricing and access to publicly-funded research for years, but all of a sudden it feels like a time where [the issue] wouldn’t be as niche. So many people recognize how important it is that COVID drugs be accessible and affordable, so it felt like a great time to hop on board!

Mahima: A close friend of mine is really into public health, and since I have no experience in this space, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get familiar with the area. I also think that the accessibility and affordability of medicines ties so directly into inclusivity as a whole, and I feel like that’s work that I’ve done, and so it makes sense that this would be work that I also feel strongly about.

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

Izzy: Because a lot of this work includes spreading messages about access to medicines to the general public, sometimes the messages can be really wordy and seemingly complicated, which scares people off and makes people think at first glance that this is not a social justice cause. Being able to write about access to medicines issues in a way that is clear and makes it—like Mahima said—clearly about inclusivity and equity in general has been a useful skill.

Mahima: Knowing some design tools has come in handy when we’re putting those words into graphics!

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

Mahima: The importance of making the message relatable. For us, since we’re doing work in Pittsburgh, that’s the place where Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine and made it accessible for everyone. So we’ve been reaching out to Pittburgh residents and relating the campaign back to that message. We’re trying to make it more digestible and easy to relate to.

Izzy: It’s easy to forget, when we’re in the middle of it, that not everyone recognizes how important this is. So… being okay with using very odd methods of getting people’s attention, that might feel too bizarre or extreme at first glance. Kooky ways to stand out and get your message across are never a bad thing! That is a useful lesson, I will say.

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

Mahima: I’ll say two things. First, reading what Izzy had written was very helpful for getting me up to speed on what the whole movement is! Second, Elin and I worked on postcards to Pittsburgh together, and for those postcards, Elin came up with the idea to make our slogan “bridge the gap,” which was a play on how Pittsburgh has so many bridges. And I think that was a really cool idea, especially coming from her, since her knowledge of Pittsburgh is minimal.

Izzy: Since then that’s become our brand. “Bridge the gap.” The coolest skill I’ve learned has been from Mahima—design stuff. My tech skills lack in certain areas, so especially in a time when we’re all at home and a lot of digital activism is happening, which I have always thought was super powerful but it’s always made me stressed because I didn’t know how to do it very well, learning how to use sites like Figma helps a ton with the messaging of access to medicines.

Mahima: I couldn’t be more proud!

Thanks for reading the last spotlight of our campaign’s first phase! Make sure to check out the other spotlights on our website. We hope to continue introducing you to even more incredible activists and sharing their insights in the second phase of the campaign!
Access Champions

Free The Vaccine Gets A Shoutout From I-MAK

Our friends at I-MAK, which seeks to “increase global access to affordable life-saving medicines by restoring integrity to the patent system,” have launched a newsletter. In their first “something hopeful” segment, they’ve kindly chosen to highlight:

The excellent #FreeTheVaccine campaign, a global movement started by students and creatives demanding that publicly funded medicines for COVID are made accessible to everyone.

We’re so inspired by the work that I-MAK does, and flattered by the shoutout! Head to this link to subscribe to their newsletter and stay up-to-date on their cutting edge work!


Phase One Finale: What’s happening in the world of the vaccine?

Pfizer could make over $15 billion in vaccine sales

An analyst has predicted that Pfizer could make over $15 billion from the vaccine at its current price of $19.50 per dose, in addition to the $1.95 billion Pfizer has already received from the government. Pfizer might argue that it did not receive government funding for research and development itself, and that the U.S. government is simply buying up stock for its people, so the company is not beholden to the same “not-for-profit” pledges that its competitors are–but the fact remains that Pfizer will be charging $19.50 per dose to customers who have already paid a collective $1.95 billion through taxes.

Moderna has launched Phase III trial for its vaccine candidate

On July 27th, Moderna launched the Phase III trial for its coronavirus vaccine candidate. Just days earlier, the company had lost a patent dispute in which it attempted to invalidate patents held by the company Arbutus, which holds rights to technology that delivers medical treatments via mRNA–like Moderna’s potential vaccine. Moderna, however, argues that this will not be an obstacle to bringing its vaccine to market. The company also received an additional $472 million in funding from BARDA for the Phase III trial; the company has now received a total of $955 million from the US government in funding for coronavirus vaccine research.

Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, Genentech, Amgen, GlaxoSmithKline, and AbCellera enter data sharing agreement

The six companies received permission from the Justice Department on July 24th to share information on manufacturing facilities, capacity, and supplies, although to protect against price fixing, the companies will not be allowed to share production costs or pricing information. The hope is that sharing manufacturing information will help the companies accelerate manufacturing and take their coronavirus drugs to market faster.

Inovio vaccine obstructed by VGXI trade secrets

A recent report by Third World Network (TWN) reveals that the company VGXI has refused Inovio’s request to transfer its trade secrets to the manufacturers needed to produce Inovio’s vaccine in the necessary quantities. VGXI controls the intellectual property related to manufacturing the DNA plasmids required for Inovio’s vaccine, and despite the company’s insufficient capacity, it refuses to let other companies produce it. As the TWN report notes, such issues could hinder the manufacturing of other vaccine candidates as well, especially as many of them rely on newer technologies. The situation is still developing, but as of now, Inovio has filed a lawsuit against VGXI, and the company has countersued.

Access Champions

Meet Elin

As the first phase of our campaign nears its end, we’d like to introduce you to Elin Chee, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley and a member of our Fox Lab!

Meet Elin

Elin Chee, Data Scientist and Health Activist

A data scientist, artist, and activist who hopes to go into the medical field, Elin has worked on everything from designing postcards to researching the University of Pittsburgh tech transfer office over the course of the campaign. She’s proven to be an incredible force when it comes to organizing her teammates, helping to recap meetings and track action items. Here’s how she describes her experience with the first phase of Free The Vaccine…

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

General creativity and design skills! I worked with some designers to make postcards that were sent to University of Pittsburgh researchers and administration. It was a lot of fun to work side by side with other designers to create impactful imagery and meaningful symbols on our postcards that would hopefully get these researchers and administration to engage in our message, and want to have conversations with us.

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

The importance of having fun and keeping it light! Every week, I work with my team, and it’s so much fun to just reinvigorate ourselves, tell jokes, celebrate our small victories. And I think it helps us have the energy to go forward on this larger goal, because it can be so easy to be discouraged otherwise.

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

The coolest idea I’ve learned from my entire team is how many diverse backgrounds there are [in the campaign] and how many walks of life people come from. It is very cool to meet weekly over Zoom with people from many different states, from very different disciplines, who have worked multiple jobs and study different things in school, but we all have this overarching passion. I think that’s been really cool, to see how everyone can end up here, from many different places.

We’re so grateful for Elin’s contributions to the campaign and her wonderful insights! Stay tuned to meet even more of our participants (and hear more of their lessons learned) over the next phase of the campaign.
Take Action

Take Action: Speak Out at the University of California Regents Meeting

July 28th through July 30th, the University of California will be holding the next meeting of its Board of Regents, and anyone who signs up by 9 AM PST on Monday, July 27th, will have the opportunity to make their voice heard. You do not need to be a California resident or a member of the UC community in order to make a public comment.

Free The Vaccine activists have put together this handy guide on how to sign up to speak, including talking points you can use. You will have 1-3 minutes to speak, depending on demand; please sign up even to make a brief statement in support of the University of California signing the Open COVID Pledge.

We don’t need fancy public speaking skills, but we do need numbers to ensure that the Regents hear the words “Open COVID Pledge” as many times as possible before the meeting is over. We have the power to redirect the conversation. Sign up and help us do it!

In the Media

Op-Ed in the Hartford Courant: Merith Basey, FTV Project Manager and UAEM North America Executive Director, Holds Yale Accountable

On July 16th, the Hartford Courant published a letter to the editor by Merith Basey, the Executive Director for UAEM North America and one of our leads at the Free The Vaccine campaign, in which she responds to a June 28th op-ed by Jon Soderstrom—head of technology transfer at Yale. The op-ed had argued for strong intellectual property rights during the pandemic, citing and skewing UAEM’s origin story in the process. As Merith writes:

When Soderstrom highlights the story from 2001 of a Yale-invented AIDS drug for which Bristol-Myers Squibb, a major pharmaceutical corporation, chose to “lower the price,” he omitted a critical piece in the plot development: a group of Yale students, in conjunction with allies were a driving force behind this lowered price.

Twenty years later, this fight for health equity and justice continues via Universities Allied for Essential Medicines not just on the Yale campus but at universities across more than 20 countries, to ensure that publicly funded medicines are affordable to the public, including those for COVID-19. People are beginning to recognize, in light of the pandemic, that the patent system is outdated and is a cause of the high price of medicines and inequality worldwide. While researchers at leading institutions around the world are racing to develop targeted COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines, they are doing so with public, taxpayer funds. An estimated $6 billion dollars worldwide has been spent to date. However, unless universities patent and license these public innovations in a socially responsible manner there will be no guarantee that they will be sustainably priced, available to everyone, or free at the point of delivery, which is what we need to curb the pandemic.


Op-Ed in the Washington Post: World Leaders Call For Equal Global Access to a Vaccine

On July 15th, world leaders (including Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde, South Korean President Moon Jae-In, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, Swedish PM Stefan Lofven, and Tunisian PM Elyes Fakhfakh) penned an op-ed calling for equal global access to a COVID-19 vaccine, warning against the rise in vaccine nationalism.

They wrote:

While global cooperation in terms of resources, expertise and experiences is paramount for developing a vaccine, manufacturing and distributing it while leaving no one behind will truly put global cooperation to the test. But if we are successful, we can beat the virus and pave the way for recovery from the pandemic.

Therefore, we must urgently ensure that vaccines will be distributed according to a set of transparent, equitable and scientifically sound principles. Where you live should not determine whether you live, and global solidarity is central to saving lives and protecting the economy. A managed flow of the vaccine —including for humanitarian settings and other vulnerable countries such as the least developed countries and small island developing states — is the wise and strategic course of action and will benefit countries across the world.


Week 16: What’s happening in the world of the vaccine?

The US Pays Pfizer $1.95 Billion For A Vaccine

On July 22nd, the United States government announced that they had agreed to pay Pfizer $1.95 billion for 100 million doses of a vaccine by the end of 2020, pricing each vaccine at around $20—a much higher cost than analysts had predicted or deemed reasonable. The US government will also have the rights to purchase 500 million more doses after the first batch, in a clear example of what critics have called “vaccine nationalism.” While Pfizer emphasizes that the vaccine will be “free” to Americans, we emphasize that Americans will still be paying for it, in taxes that would otherwise go elsewhere. That is why our campaign goal is not simply for the vaccine to be free but for the vaccine to be “sustainably priced, available to all, and free at the point of delivery.” We’re sorry to see that this deal only meets the last condition.

Novartis Promises COVID-19 Related Meds to Poor Countries “At Cost”

Last week, Novartis announced that it will sell 15 generic and over-the-counter medications to low-and-middle income countries at the cost of manufacturing, and not for profit. This announcement is welcome; companies should not engage in COVID-19 profiteering, and poor countries in particular should have access to medicines at the lowest possible cost. Critics note, however, that Novartis has not announced the actual prices for these medicines yet. For now, we will have to wait to see how affordable they are.