In the Media

Op-Ed in STAT News Calls for a “People’s Vaccine,” Mentions Free The Vaccine Campaign

This piece in STAT News discusses the need for a “people’s vaccine” affordable around the world in the broader context of foreign policy and international power. The piece gives a shout out to the Free The Vaccine campaign, pointing out that in addition to advocating for a people’s vaccine, we also “seek to dismantle the biomedical system upon which the Oxford-AstraZeneca deal [which prioritizes access to the vaccine in the U.S. and U.K. over other countries] was built.”


Week 8: What We’re Reading, Black Lives Matter Edition

If you are looking for resources including important petitions, protest and riot safety information, funds to donate to, and ways you can support protests from home…

These two links are an excellent place to start.

If you are looking for mental health resources supporting Black people during this time…

We hope this list of resources will be helpful to you.

If you are interested in an anti-racism toolkit designed for white allies…

Some of our members have found this document helpful.

If you are curious about proposed alternatives to the current policing and prison systems…

You may be interested in these resources created and compiled by the organization Critical Resistance, and this blog run by abolitionist activist Mariame Kaba.

While this list of resources is of course not comprehensive, we hope some will find it helpful. As a group that includes both Black activists and non-Black allies, we remain committed to reading, learning, and organizing for justice and equality.

Week 8: What’s happening in the world of the vaccine?

The top 5 most promising candidates—and what we know about access to them

A recent review by the Cornell Alliance for Science has identified the five most promising vaccine candidates for COVID-19. Here they are, ranked by the Alliance from most to least promising, with our added commentary on affordability:

  1. CanSino’s adenovirus vaccine, particularly significant because President Xi Jinping has announced that any vaccine developed in China will be a “global public good,” meaning it is likely to be available widely and cheaply. (We say this tentatively, because China has not made encouraging statements regarding intellectual property.)
  2. Oxford University’s adenovirus vaccine. While Oxford initially stated that its “baseline policy will be to offer non-exclusive, royalty-free licences to support free, at-cost or limited margin supply,” it has since partnered with AstraZeneca to manufacture the vaccine, and the details of their intellectual property arrangement have not been made public. And at a press briefing on May 28th, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot condemned the WHO’s patent pooling initiative alongside leaders from GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson. Soriot argued that “IP is a fundamental part of our industry and if you don’t protect IP, then essentially there is no incentive for anybody to innovate.” His comments are concerning for access, and we’ll keep you updated as we learn more.
  3. Moderna’s mRNA technology. The company has not made any assurances regarding access and affordability.
  4. Sinovac’s inactivated virus vaccine. Because Sinovac is a Chinese company, our commentary is the same as for #1.
  5. Inovio’s DNA vaccine. The company has not made any assurances regarding access and affordability.
Take Action

Sign a petition for the UK government to make the vaccine affordable!

Looking for an action that takes less than a minute?

Sign this petition by Global Justice Now calling on the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Secretary of State for International Development!

The petition asks for conditions to be attached all UK funding for COVID-19 vaccine research, ensuring that the vaccine will be affordable to all in the UK and globally.

Access Champions

Highlights from Week 8 Mission: How do you make an iconic image?

Learning from Iconic AIDS Activism

This week, team leads Steve, Merith, and Rebecca spoke with Avram Finklestein, the AIDS activist and designer who helped create the famous SILENCE = DEATH image shown above. He’s also the artist behind many other powerful images that have defined AIDS activism. Take a look!

Avram shared lessons learned from his work in AIDS activism, advice on capturing public attention, and ideas for how to do effective work as a collective. Our Lab members took this week to watch or listen to the conversation with Avram, and then began brainstorming their own images and text—keeping in mind three initial key principles: riffing on images already familiar to your audience, avoiding technical or political jargon, and using humor.

They also shared their own takeaways from the webinar with each other. Courtney Surmanek wrote:

Write it all down, and edit later (not during!). We’re all capable of incisive, creative thinking, we’re just not trained to think we are. Reminds me of “yes, and”, the basis of improv, which is what I use to describe the ethos I look for/want to help guide in collaboration.

And how amazing to hear that the infamous SILENCE = DEATH phrase emerged from a quick volley/brainstorm across a dinner table as opposed to a more intensive brainstorming session (or rather, perhaps after the intensive brainstorming session). What’s the online version of the dinner table?

I’ve REALLY love the online platform Icebreaker and want to explore it more to support the brainstorming phase.

Sofia Weiss-Goitandia was reminded of an action she had helped to create with her Friends of MSF group at the University of Cambridge called the No More Tears Challenge. In Sofia’s own words:

Listening to Avram speak about the importance of the opening sentence has reminded me of a campaign our Friends of MSF group created at the University of Cambridge, which I thought might provide some further inspiration. The ‘No More Tears’ challenge was created by our group in order to try and pressure Johnson and Johnson into lowering the price of their TB drug bedaquiline. Basically people have to film themselves eating a chilli whilst trying not to cry, and then it’s shared on social media. This piece of campaigning spread really quickly, and was picked up by the MSF access campaign. What I love about the ‘No More Tears’ tagline is that it’s taking J&J’s own catchphrase, and confronting it with them, which worked really well as an opening sentence.

WATCH: Collectivity and Communicating in Public Space

The webinar has inspired a lot of creativity from our lab members—and it’s simply too good not to share with you in full. You can watch the webinar below, and we’ve also provided a Table of Contents with timestamps to help you navigate to the content you need.

TimeTopic Link
00:00Intro 1
15:30Storytelling in Capitalism
24:55The Opening Sentence
28:13Critical Analysis
29:00Simple but not simplistic 1
36:45Working in Collectives
48:27Plan Campaigns
52:35Growing into your role
1:00:03Working in Public
1:06:35Tips for Collective Projects
1:11:08Q: Doubt the collective?
1:20:39Q: COVID conversations?

Action Updates

This post has been a longer one, but we still have a couple action updates from our Labs that you can’t miss! Some quick highlights for you, this time:

  • The Bisons have sent their first “Free The Vaccine” themed sleeping mask and box to Dr. Atul Malhotra, a pulmonologist specializing in sleep medicine. They’ve also created a Twitter account, so give them a follow!
  • With Avram’s lessons in mind, our Labs have already drafted some awesome images with which to reach out to their target scientists! Here are just a couple examples:
A draft poster by Fiona from the Seal team.
Some draft postcard ideas by Mahima and Elin from the Fox team.
  • After learning that Dolly Parton had donated $1 million to vaccine research at Vanderbilt University, the Zonkeys decided to build a campaign focused on Dr. Naji Abumrad, her friend and a scientist at the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology, and Inflammation, in whose honor she made the donation. The Zonkeys have worked with Vanderbilt students to reach out to the university’s technology transfer office about the Open COVID Pledge, as well as Dr. Abumrad’s son Jad Abumrad, who is a host for RadioLab. They’ve asked him to share their message through a podcast episode. And they also have something super creative in the works, so stay tuned

Representatives Schakowsky and Rooney Call For Affordable Coronavirus Treatment and Vaccine

In an op-ed for Newsweek, U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Francis Rooney argue for various government reforms which would ensure affordable drugs and vaccines for COVID-19, including combating monopolies, requiring an affordable price, and mandating transparency in R&D funding.

We know drug corporations will continue to exploit opportunities to profiteer just as they have in past epidemics like HIV/AIDS, the man-made opioid crisis and chronic health diseases like diabetes. But as COVID-19 ravages the globe, we also know that any medicine or vaccine the drug corporations develop with public money is 100 percent ineffective for those who can’t afford it.

Lower drug prices should not be a partisan issue. That’s why we are introducing legislation establishing three protections against price gouging for COVID-19 vaccines, drugs or other therapeutics: an end to the exclusive monopoly control that allows select drug companies to manufacture and determine the cost of medicines; a guarantee that pharmaceutical corporations are not allowed to sell any COVID-19 vaccine, drug or therapeutic at an unreasonable price; and a requirement that manufacturers publicly report total expenditures, including actual research and development, and the percentage of those expenditures that were derived from federal funds.

We’ll keep you updated as more details are announced about the new legislation! If passed, these reforms would be significant steps towards freeing the vaccine and towards ensuring access to affordable medicines overall.


MSF Calls for No Patents on COVID-19 Drugs, Tests, or Vaccines

The international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, announced on May 27th that they were calling for no patents or profiteering on all COVID-19 medical products.

The international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) today called for no patents or profiteering on drugs, tests, or vaccines used for the COVID-19 pandemic, and for governments to prepare to suspend and override patents and take other measures, such as price controls, to ensure availability, reduce prices and save more lives.

Already, Canada, Chile, Ecuador and Germany have taken steps to make it easier to override patents by issuing ‘compulsory licenses’ for COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and other medical tools. Similarly, the government of Israel issued a compulsory license for patents on a medicine they were investigating for use for COVID-19.

Following intense criticism from civil society groups and MSF, pharmaceutical corporation Gilead just gave up a special designation from the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) that would have allowed for extended monopoly control over the 20-year patents it has filed for in more than 70 countries for its potential COVID-19 treatment candidate, remdesivir. Preliminary results of clinical trials using remdesivir to treat COVID-19 are expected in April. However, Gilead has yet to commit to not enforcing its patents globally. 

“Gilead has no business profiteering from this pandemic and must commit to not enforce or claim its patents and other exclusive rights,” said Dana Gill, US Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “Otherwise, Gilead is setting itself up to charge whatever it wants for remdesivir during this global health crisis, and for years to come. This is even more outrageous when you consider the tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars and public resources that have already contributed to the research and development of remdesivir.”

MSF is deeply concerned about access to any forthcoming drugs, tests, and vaccines for COVID-19 in places where MSF works and in other countries affected by this pandemic, and is urging governments to prepare to suspend or override patents for COVID-19 medical tools by issuing compulsory licenses. Removing patents and other barriers is critical to help ensure that there are sufficient suppliers selling at prices everyone can afford.

“We know too well from our work around the world what it means to not be able to treat people in our care because a needed drug is just too expensive or simply not available,” said Dr Márcio da Fonseca, Infectious Disease Advisor at MSF’s Access Campaign. “In countries where pharmaceutical corporations enforce patents, we urge governments to set the wheels in motion to override these monopolies so they can ensure the supply of affordable drugs and save more lives.”

Médecins Sans Frontières Press Release

Week 7: What We’re Reading

If you’re interested in what the editorial board of the world’s preeminent science journal has to say about ensuring access to the vaccine…

Read this editorial in Nature arguing that patent pooling is critical to ensuring health justice, and that accepting the conventional profit-driven model during a pandemic is unconscionable.

If you’re looking for an explanation of the ongoing issues around pricing for Gilead’s publicly-funded antiviral drug remdesivir…

Read this piece in the Washington Post, with input from access to medicines advocates and a history of Gilead’s pattern of profiting off of publicly-funded medicines.

If you’re interested in learning what cybersecurity policy has to do with access to a vaccine…

Read this thought-provoking post on the Lawfare blog, which discusses recent public service announcement by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, explains why the terms it frames coronavirus research in are harmful, and argues that a more collaborative approach to science is necessary right now.

Take Action

Write about Free The Vaccine and the Open COVID Pledge!

For those who can commit to a more time-intensive action, a New York Times editor is looking for college students to write op-eds about their experiences during the pandemic and their thoughts on schools reopening. This could be a great opportunity for a college student to write about our campaign and the Open COVID Pledge!

Head to the editor’s DMs to make your pitch, and feel free to reach out to the FTV team with questions.

Take Action

Reach out with us!

Heads of state, former heads of state, and other prominent figures have formally announced their support for The People’s Vaccine, arguing in an open letter that the vaccine should be available to all, in all countries, free of charge. We’ve compiled the full list of signatories here.

For this week’s quick and easy action, we’re asking you to join us in reaching out to one of the signatories on the list—just @ them on Twitter—and thanking them for their support! Don’t forget to use the hashtag #FreeTheVaccine.

So far, we’ve been working on highly-targeted actions asking researchers and institutions to join the Open COVID Pledge. That’s an important part of our campaign. But reaching out to The People’s Vaccine signatories is about broadening our engagement. We’re trying to build a global movement, and this open letter tells us there are powerful people on our side. It’s important that we connect with them, leverage that power, and link our actions to the global mission at hand.