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PRESIDENT BIDEN: MAKE A PEOPLE’S VACCINE

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. Ensure full transparency and accountability over US funding for the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.”

Read the full letter here.

/ENDS

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.

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Access Champions News

“Vilomah:” An Essay by Kisha Patterson

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.

“Could You Patent the Sun?” -Jonas Salk

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News

UAEM Press Release: Moderna Should Free All COVID-19 IP

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

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. 

In August 2020, Free the Vaccine for COVID-19  and its allies held a protest outside of Moderna’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., to urge the corporation to remove intellectual property rights around their pending coronavirus vaccine which was paid for with US taxpayer dollars, and to commit to signing the OpenCOVID pledge

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 at http://uaem.org

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/UAEMpage/

Twitter-https://twitter.com/uaem

Instagram @uaem_meds4people

Media Contact: Joyce-Zoe Farley, Ph.D.

Media & Communications Consultant

201.983.3787 (c)

Communications@essentialmedicine.org

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News

The Future: An Uneven Burden of COVID-19

Image from Suzanne Kreiter via The Boston Globe

First, last week brought news that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine had reported 90% efficacy. Then, we heard news from another top contender for the vaccine, Moderna, who reported 94.5% efficacy for their vaccine. Finally, Pfizer announced that their COVID-19 vaccine is 95% effective with no safety concerns. These headlines may suggest promising news for individuals in high-income countries like the United States, but what about the rest of the world?

Mike Ludwig from Truthout reports of a “global vaccine apartheid.” Rich countries can distribute the vaccine (after its approval) amongst their populations after engaging in billion-dollar manufacturing deals with pharmaceutical companies, leaving billions of people around the world unable to access the global vaccine supply. This can lead to “economic devastation for vulnerable communities.”

According to Peter Maybarduk, the director of the Access to Medicines program at Public Citizen, these funders have responsibility to the public. They are not responsible for a pharmaceutical company’s profit margins. This is a People’s Vaccine, and we must continue to fight for it.

Read the full article on Truthout here.

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Podcast

Free the Vaccine News Episode 9

with your host, Tessa Marshall.

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News

Merith at the Count the Votes Rally in D.C.

The day before the election results were declared in the US, Merith Basey on behalf of UAEM and Free the Vaccine, was invited to join allied groups Spaces in Action, Casa in action and others in DC to support the call to “Count the Votes”. The speakers were almost all recent immigrants asked to share why voting matters and the impact it would have on their lives and their communities. Merith of course linked the election to the COVID-19 response, access to the vaccine and the lives that depend on it around the world.

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Access Champions News

Atmospheres of the Undead by Caitlin Berrigan

Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 participant, Caitlin Berrigan, has an essay published in the journal March titled “Atmospheres of the Undead: living with viruses, loneliness, and neoliberalism.” In it she talks about how living with Hepatitis C “reveals the structural inequalities of profit-oriented biomedicine.”

You can read it, or download an audio version.

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Access Champions News

Aly Bancroft: Pharma’s Billions Sprang from the Taxpayer Dime

Image Credit: Dado Ruvic/Reuters/Washington Post

Megan McArdle was correct that the coronavirus pandemic has revealed the drug development system is working. What she didn’t mention is that the system is working as it was designed: to maximize monopoly profits for the pharmaceutical industry.”

Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) board member and Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 participant Aly Bancroft submitted a Letter to the Editor that was featured in the Washington Post! Aly is also the campaign coordinator at Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program. Read the full letter here.

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News

Peep this video from partners at the Peoples Vaccine Alliance

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Access Champions News

Meet our Participant: Dannie Synder!

Recently, I was given the opportunity to be able to learn more about one of our participants: Dannie Synder. Dannie has been living all over the place since the start of the pandemic, from Austin to Washington D.C. to Mexico City, but has been a dedicated participant of the Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 campaign since Season 1. Read more about her work throughout and beyond the campaign below!

What does the Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 movement mean to you?

I am an artivist: an artistic activist. I consider myself an activist, and I started out in mostly prison abolition. I began as a teacher in juvenile detention centers and through that became interested in the prison abolition movement, particularly because it touches so many different elements from homelessness to mental health to the Black Lives Matter movement — and I’m learning more how it touches access to medicine. This is an area that I have never had much experience and I’m still learning a lot. I’m still gaining confidence in speaking about this movement, and everyday it is shocking to me that access to medicines is an issue. That was one of the reasons I wanted to join this campaign — this is an area that I have been really hesitant to get into as it seems very technical and embedded in the legal system. This campaign is allowing me the opportunity to continue developing my abilities as an artistic activist. 

Given that you mentioned your experience working in prison abolition, have you made any connections with the access to medicines movement?

Well, I’m learning more about mental health issues and with the BLM movement and with everything else that is going on right now, we have to ask these questions like “who do we call when there’s an emergency?” We cannot call the police because it leads to violence, so who can we call and what kind of organizations are available in different cities?

This is really addressing the issues of communities with lack of access to not just physical medicine, but also mental health resources. I’m someone who doesn’t have health insurance, and I’m learning how difficult it is  to get health insurance in America. I did not realize until during this campaign that one in five people can’t afford their medicine and can’t get access to medicine — I am curious to learn more about prisoners in particular those with mental health issues how many of them actually had access to the essential services that they need.

What are you most looking forward to for this season? 

Right now in Season 2, one one of the leaders of our team of our lab is helping come up with really great tactics. One of the things I continue to learn about everyday is we can come up with all these really creative tactics, but what’s actually going to be effective? I really like working with the artistic activism side of this campaign, because we are really good at pushing each other and pushing everyone. I think working also with people from an access to medicines background helps us decide how we are going to get results, since they have experience dealing with the more legal aspects of medicine. 

One thing in particular: I have been super excited about the Jolene vaccine challenge. We made the video the trailer to our music video trailer season 1 and probably by the end of November early December we’re going to make the full-length music video. This is all super exciting for me; I felt very important and I felt very happy that we made something which got so much traction on social media. It was a really nice moment we felt like even though we didn’t get Vanderbilt University on the phone yet (who is our target) you know we still can get a response from them from the video. We felt like we did accomplish something by all the people who were exposed to our video, and learned something important and new about the access to medicines movement. 

What do you think would be a good outcome for this campaign? 

It would be great if we could garner an impressive number of universities to sign onto the Open COVID Pledge. If we could get an institution like [Major State University] to sign the Open COVID Pledge, we know that people like politicians for example are going to pay attention to that. We need to always push universities to do better, and if we can do that, then we have done our part as a campaign!