On May 18th, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines launched PublicMeds4Covid.Org, a project tracking public investment in research on COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines around the world. The mapping, which was widely shared by scientists and activists alike, will also guide the work of participants in our Salk Labs as they select targets and push for a return on the public’s investment. Check out the mapping, and see if you can find any institutions you have a personal connection to!
73rd World Health Assembly
On May 18th and 19th, World Health Organization Member States convened over Zoom for the 73rd World Health Assembly. In their statements on the COVID-19 resolution, many countries emphasized the importance of access to diagnostics, vaccines, and treatment, including India, Austria, Algeria, Germany, Costa Rica, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, and Argentina; several argued that the vaccine should be a “global public good.” The resolution, which was adopted by the Assembly, named immunizations as a global public good but unfortunately did not extend that label to vaccines.
On the bright side, the resolution maintained its reference to TRIPS flexibilities, which allow countries to prioritize public health over patent rights—despite the opposition of the United State. In their interventions, civil society groups including Médecins Sans Frontières International, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, and Knowledge Ecology International emphasized the importance of freeing diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines from intellectual property restrictions, and the need for commitment from member states to ensuring access and affordability. For those seeking more information about how international politics played out at the World Health Assembly, this short five-minute audio clip offers a great summary.
COVID-19 Technology Pool
On May 15th, the World Health Organization and Costa Rica announced progress on the development of a technology pool, which we have mentioned in previous newsletters. The technology pool would facilitate the voluntary, nonexclusive licensing of COVID-related intellectual property, accelerating innovation and enabling affordable access around the world. The platform will officially launch on May 29th, at which time governments and institutions will be able to formally announce their public support. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more!
This week, we asked our participants to reflect and catch up, taking a survey on the campaign so far, reading each other’s mission reports, and mapping their own progress. Participants also used this week’s webinar—which featured a role play of how to talk to university administrators about the Open COVID Pledge—as inspiration for continued advocacy. We’d like to catch you up on some of the creative actions that have come out of our Labs this week, as well as work going on behind the scenes!
But before you read any further, I want to highlight our new logo, created by Falcon Lab member Nancy Nowacek! How cool is this? We think it captures the spirit of our campaign so well.
World leaders unite in call for a people’s vaccine against COVID-19
More than 140 world leaders, experts and elders have made an unprecedented call for guarantees that COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, tests and treatments will be provided free of charge to everyone, everywhere
GENEVA, 14 MAY 2020—More than 140 world leaders and experts, including the President of South Africa and Chair of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, the President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall and the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo have signed an open letter calling on all governments to unite behind a people’s vaccine against COVID-19. The call was made just days before health ministers meet virtually for the World Health Assembly on 18 May.
The letter, which marks the most ambitious position yet set out by world leaders on a COVID-19 vaccine, demands that all vaccines, treatments and tests be patent-free, mass produced, distributed fairly and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.
This week, we’d like to share some more highlights from our mission reports that showcase creative actions our Labs are planning—and how actions evolve as our squads reach their targets! Their mission this week was to iterate and steal: to repeat actions with new targets, and to borrow strategy and tactics from other Labs after reading their Mission Reports. In order to track their progress, Labs were asked to identify where they currently are on our Progress Map, and to decide where they can go next.
On May 12th, the Senate held a hearing on “COVID-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School,” chaired by Senator Lamar Alexander. At the hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders questioned FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn: “I would imagine that that vaccine would be distributed to all people free of charge, or make sure at least that everybody in America who needs that vaccine will get it regardless of their income. Is that a fair assumption?” Hahn was evasive in his response, just as other U.S. officials (including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar) have been regarding access to the vaccine.
April 27, 2020: Mariana Mazzucato, University College London professor, and Els Torreele, Executive Director of the Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) Access Campaign, explain how specific intellectual property, manufacturing, and procurement policies can ensure equitable access to a vaccine around the world.
How Patents Can Hurt Access to Coronavirus Vaccines and Treatment
June 1, 2014: This article in Jacobin Magazine explains how the Bayh-Dole Act has been used to privatize publicly-funded academic research, to the detriment of patients and the quality of science overall.
April 23, 2020: Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, economics professor Arjun Jayadev, and access to medicines advocate Achal Prabhala explain why patent reform is necessary to combat the pandemic.
Want a simple way to join one of our creative actions? It’s easy–just plant something, or find a plant you can use. Then follow the steps in the infographic below to dedicate the plant to a researcher working on COVID-19!
If you’re having trouble thinking of a scientist, feel free to dedicate it to any of the researchers who have already noticed us: Dr. Jethro Herberg from Imperial College, Prof. Pollard of Oxford University, Marcin Drag at Wroclaw University, Prof. Kev Dhaliwal of Edinburgh Medical School, or Dr Hirani of Edinburgh Medical School. Don’t forget to tag @covidplants on Twitter or @covidresearchchampions on Instagram so we can reshare your photo!
Below are some images we’ve shared so far of the plants with their dedication labels!
This piece in The New Republic is a comprehensive look at our biomedical R&D system, how it has failed people in the pandemic, and how it might be reimagined to better serve public health needs. The piece quotes a number of experts on access to medicines, including our very own Free The Vaccine project manager and UAEM Executive Director, Merith Basey!