Image from Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency/Getty
The COVID-19 vaccine may almost be here, but the race is far from over. Countries have scrambled to secure doses for their populations, while often neglecting the needs of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). As a result, LMICs have been placed last on the waiting list, with the Duke Global Health Innovation Center predicting they may have to wait until 2023 or 2024 for vaccination.
Nature reports that over 10 billion doses for the vaccine have been pre-ordered, which includes most of the 2021 manufacturing capacity for all three leading candidates (AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna).
Although they account for only around 13% of the world’s population, 27 member states of the EU along with five rich countries have pre-ordered about 1/2 of this global supply. Canada alone has pre-ordered almost 9 doses of the vaccine per person, followed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the European Union in terms of the number of pre-ordered doses. Vaccine hoarding by rich countries leaves the world’s most vulnerable without access, raising questions on equitable vaccine allocation. Read more on Nature News here.
With progress on the vaccine front making the news over the past few weeks, we can look to the history of mRNA vaccines to highlight the importance of a free vaccine. While no public statements on ensuring global access to the COVID-19 vaccine have been made, Pfizer has made sure to note that their vaccine was developed with no public funding.
Nevertheless, the Pfizer vaccine is a joint effort with the German company BioNTech, who did accept public funding for the research and development of the vaccine candidate. In addition, the technology behind Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine was first developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, an institution that receives public funding, in 1990.
While the idea was dismissed upon its discovery, it has become the leading technology in the COVID-19 vaccine race, used as the backbone for both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Read more from STAT News here.
Washington Post reports that the new frontier of vaccine diplomacy can be characterized by two paths: stockpile or share. While entities like the United States and the European Union have been focusing on stockpiling vaccines for their respective populations, other countries, such as China and Russia, have been focusing on sharing their vaccine(s) with other entities around the world. The issue of vaccine distribution and allocation has quickly become a leverage point in diplomacy, which will have significant impacts on distribution equity.
“There are critical questions about safety and efficacy — or even how much each country can produce. But, for the moment, those questions are overshadowed in a seller’s market.”
Read more about the implications of vaccine diplomacy on global public health here.
On December 4th and 9th, 2020, several organizations are collaborating to host the event: Vaccine Allocation and Social Justice. Open to all, the purpose of the event is to share concrete steps on how to improve the chances of equitable vaccine allocation. The event will include multiple sessions which different focuses, including challenges in distribution, legal ways of allocating vaccines equitably, and implementing equity.
“A particular focus is on ensuring that the needs of vulnerable groups whose communities often experienced—and experience—structural racism and other forms of systemic injustice are central, rather than, as too often in the past, peripheral.”
The participating hosts include Ariadne Labs, Boston College, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the International Society for Priorities in Health, MIT Economics, the O’Neill Institute, and the University of Pennsylvania.
More information and registration for this virtual event can be found here.
Image from the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative
Today, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) announced in a press release that thirteen countries in Africa, along with an international network of research institutions, are launching the largest clinical trial in Africa for mild-to-moderate patients. DNDi is a global non-profit drug research and development (R&D) group that has extensive partnerships in Africa.
“We welcome the ANTICOV trial led by African doctors because it will help answer one of our most pressing questions: With limited intensive care facilities in Africa, can we treat people for COVID-19 earlier and stop our hospitals from being overwhelmed?’ – Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The purpose of the ANTICOV trial is to identify early treatments that can prevent the progression of COVID-19 to a severe form of the disease, potentially limiting its transmission. Read more about the trial and institutions participating in the novel effort here.
WASHINGTON, DC — Today, more than 100 high-level leaders from public health, faith-based, racial justice, and labor organizations, joined former members of Congress, economists, and artists to sign a public letter calling on President-elect Biden to make the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine a People’s Vaccine: a global public good, freely and fairly available to all, prioritizing those most in need here at home and around the world. Free The Vaccine has joined the call encouraging the need for a vaccine for ALL people.
“A safe, effective and accessible COVID-19 vaccine is vital to bring an end to today’s dual economic and health crisis – so our families are safe, so people can get back to work, so we can live our lives again,” the letter says. “No one anywhere is safe from this disease until everyone everywhere is safe.”
The public letter comes as the leading vaccine candidates have already or will prepare to apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Signers include philanthropists Abigail Disney and Chelsea Clinton, actors Alyssa Milano, Aisha Tyler, Maz Jobrani, and Forest Whitaker, professors Joseph Stiglitz and Noam Chomsky, and activist Ady Barkan. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and former members of Congress Lynn Woolsey, Mary Jo Kilroy, Claudine Schneider, and Sander Levin also signed.
The letter recognizes that President-elect Biden can bring about a People’s Vaccine as the fastest and most effective way to fight this pandemic, reopen our businesses and schools, protect Americans and our interests, and save lives here in the US and around the world.
“The next US President will have tremendous power to help decide who gets access to protection from this virus, when and at what cost,” the letter continues. “With this power comes a historic opportunity for America to lead again by leveraging the strength, know-how, and generosity of our people to combat this disease here at home and wherever it resides.”
“The only strategy to end the pandemic as quickly as possible is by ensuring we have a People’s Vaccine–safe, effective, available for all, and free at the point of delivery,” says Merith Basey, Universities of Allied for Essential Medicines, Executive Director of North America.
As scientists deliver the breakthroughs needed for the COVID-19 vaccine, all vaccines must be made in quantities that ensure everyone, everywhere can be protected. Despite largely being funded by public money, pharmaceutical companies have not made the necessary commitments to ensure global production and global access. In fact, many have indicated that they intend to profit off their sale, and the highest bidders are already reserving the limited quantities that individual manufacturers can produce. The scarcity this competition creates means the COVID-19 crisis could be around for much longer than if a vaccine was made widely available to all.
Renowned epidemiologist Arthur Reingold joined Vanessa Kerry, Director of the Program in Global Public Policy and Social Change at Harvard Medical School and CEO of Seed Global Health, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable, Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health, Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America, Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen, and Morris Pearl, former Managing Director of BlackRock and chairperson of Patriotic Millionaires to also sign the letter.
The group calls on President-elect Biden to:
Guarantee all vaccines are sold at affordable prices, as close to cost as possible, to ensure that the US and other governments can provide protection to people for free.
Ensure full transparency and accountability over US funding for the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
Ensure that companies and research institutions share vaccine technologies and know-how nationally and globally to overcome price and supply barriers, especially for those vaccines developed with taxpayer money.
Prevent monopoly control of production in order to mobilize large-scale and decentralized manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines to adequately supply safe and effective vaccines for people here and around the world.
Work collaboratively with world leaders and health authorities worldwide to deliver and implement a fair and equitable global distribution plan for the vaccine and all COVID-19 products and technologies.
Empower scientists to independently determine – without fear or favor – if each vaccine is safe and effective for approval. Neither politics nor profits have a place in the vaccine approval process.
Prioritize protection for those people most in need and most at risk, including frontline healthcare and social-care workers, essential workers, older people, people with pre-existing conditions at higher risk, and high-transmission communities here and around the world.
“US taxpayers have already committed more than $10 billion in public money towards a COVID19 vaccine,” the letter continues. “A vaccine paid for by the people should work for the people and remain of the people.”
Editor’s note: This public letter is part of the global Peoples’ Vaccine campaign backed by past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders and economists. For more information visit: https://peoplesvaccine.org
On Sunday, G20 leaders pledged to support the “affordable and equitable” global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kisha Patterson is a historic preservation architect, artist, and activist practicing in Pittsburgh, PA. She is grateful for the health and safety of her children and urges everyone to demand a People’s Vaccine and sign the Open Covid Pledge. She has been volunteering with Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 since March of 2020.
“Vilomah” is the only word I’ve ever found to mean a mother who has lost her child. On September 22, 2020, Jamain Stephens was buried under a tree on a high spot overlooking the rolling hills of Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 220,000 deaths are so incomprehensible it is easy to become numb to its all, at the same time losing this one young life has been acutely painful to me. Jamain was nearly 21, a football player, healthy, and died from a blood clot he suffered as a complication of Covid-19 in the late summer of 2020. A New York Times article calls into question the safety of contact sports, and the college football team with which he had played and practiced. I don’t care for football, and this may be an argument against the institution entirely – but that isn’t what moved me. He grew up near where I grew up, and his mother is about my age.
Since the spring lockdowns, I had started running and biking through this old cemetery nearly every day. The first lock-downs of the Covid-19 Pandemic brought a period of fear and isolation, I found solace among the graves. Green leaves overtook bare trees like they do every spring. Manicured lawns lined with mausoleums and markers in stately rows seemed to imply a natural order to the world, even in death. I slowly realized that I have been crying over the death of this one stranger because I recognized the spot where he was buried.
On the occasions I strolled the winding paths with my children, we would read the headstones. We would say a special prayer for the interred mothers, especially the ones whose graves were dated after her children. It is an old cemetery, some remembered there passed away 175 years ago. I wondered if some of those mothers had any living descendants because they were buried next to two or more of their infant and toddler children. These were the graves of the wealthy, in the late 1800’s clean water and medicine were hardly commonplace, lots of children died quite young.
My 13-year-old son speculated about the headstones dated between 1918 and 1920, wondering how many were victims of the “Spanish Flu”. Like in 2020, an invisible contagion transformed life. I wonder if anyone gathered at homes or graves to try to console mothers having to bury their young adult children? In those times, some cities restricted funerals, and Pittsburgh was one of them. What was it like to grieve alone? In either case, no one could have sequenced the disease’s DNA or peered into the lungs of those infected. Science would not deliver any flu vaccine for another 20 years.
No one has set the grave maker for young Jamain yet, but it will say 2020. One hundred years from now, someone will see all the graves there, from 1840 and on. They will damn, as I do, the lack of sewers and science in the 19th and 20th centuries that resulted in so much suffering, death, and so many inconsolable mothers.
Jamain Stephens went to Central Catholic High School, not even half a mile from the University of Pittsburgh. In 1955, from this University’s Virus Research Laboratory, Jonas Salk declared his vaccine for polio safe, and effective. More importantly, he wouldn’t patent this find. He made this compassionate gift to be sure his vaccine would be widely available.
WASHINGTON, DC–October 9, 2020–Moderna announced yesterday, under pressure from civil society groups including Free The Vaccine for COVID-19 and its allies in their calls for a People’s Vaccine, that it will not enforce patent protections on the pending coronavirus vaccine mRNA-1273. While such actions are a step in the right direction, they are without a doubt being made as a result of financial responsibility to US taxpayers, and the global need to contain and eradicate the virus. This is all a requirement for a People’s Vaccine, a growing global movement requiring that when safe and effective vaccine(s) are available they are produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people everywhere, free of charge.
To date, Moderna has received close to a $1 billion dollars of taxpayer money for COVID vaccine research and development, which doesn’t include the additional $1.5 billion dollars the U.S. government was slated to pay for 300 million vials of the vaccine once it cleared drug trials. Unsurprisingly, big pharma once again was going to rip off the American public and handsomely profit off of the pandemic.
Despite a corporate press statement from Moderna highlighting the significance of IP rights and its hurdles, “…[we] recognize that intellectual property rights play an important role in encouraging investment in research,” this isn’t enough. Again, the corporation has yet to sign the Open COVID Pledge. The pledge would help prevent coronavirus-related intellectual property rights from being a future barrier to access worldwide.
“Centering patents and profit will only prolong this plague. Moderna must take action now to ensure that their publicly-funded vaccine candidate is sustainably priced and available to all. We cannot defeat this pandemic without global solidarity, and Moderna can play their part by opening up access to their intellectual property and pricing the vaccine sustainably,” says Sernah Essien, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), North America Coordinating Committee Member and a Free The Vaccine Project Manager.
In addition to urging Moderna to sign the Open COVID Pledge, the Free the Vaccine campaign is calling on the corporation to commit to sharing all rights and knowledge patent to the World Health’s Organization’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) for as long as is necessary to end the pandemic. Any decision to the contrary will lead to further unnecessary deaths and vaccine apartheid where only high income countries have priority access.
“We urgently need a People’s Vaccine: available to everyone, everywhere free of charge” says Merith Basey, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, Executive Director, North America. “Any monopolies on a vaccine will only keep prices artificially high and leaving entire nations at risk of vaccine apartheid. No one will be safe until we are all safe and this will be the most efficient way to end the pandemic as quickly as possible”.
Free The Vaccine for COVID-19 Campaign is a partnership between Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and Center for Artistic Activism (C4AA). The global movement in nearly 30 countries with roughly 300 college students, creatives, and medical professionals using digital advocacy and the arts to get universities, pharmaceutical companies, and research entities to sign the Open COVID Pledge, as well as, ensure that COVID-19 vaccine(s) are accessible, sustainably priced, and available to all. The international pledge asks organizations to make their IP free and available to all in the battle against the coronavirus. Currently, Free The Vaccine is in its second round and is at the forefront of the social vaccine action. To learn more, visit us at freethevaccine.org.
About Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) is a non-profit organization rooted in a movement of university students. UAEM seeks to: 1) Promote access to medicines for people in developing countries by changing norms and practices around university patenting and licensing; 2) Ensure that university medical research meets the needs of the majority of the world’s population; 3) Empower students to respond to the access and innovation crises. Since its founding in 2001, UAEM has grown into an international network of students in medicine, law, public health and related fields with chapters on nearly 100 university campuses in 20 countries. Find out more athttp://uaem.org,