Director of the Intermedia Program Susan Smith said of the exhibit:
“We brought an international exhibition to UMaine’s IMRC Center as the first location to host ‘Creativity vs. COVID,’ an exhibition of work created by artists, students [and] scientists in over 18 countries,” Smith said.
“As director, it is important to me that students see the potential for their role beyond the classroom in a society in which art can serve to create change, and to bring information to a wider audience,” Smith said. “We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and while they have had to struggle with the challenges that have presented, there exists also the opportunity for them to use their work like never before.”
Rochelle Lawrence a MFA student in the intermedia program said of using art for activism:
“The global pandemic has changed the way we are able to be in the world and as an artist, the isolating effect of the shutdown has opened my eyes to the importance that science has on our lives every day,” Lawrence said. “It has also shown me how such a large part of the United States’ population is skeptical of science. Making artwork that promotes the vaccine has been a chance to use art as a communication device. Art is an amazing tool for grabbing people’s attention so that they might think further about how the vaccine can impact their lives and in turn, move us toward herd immunity.”
The work did not stop with the exhibit. On April 2 intermedia students used projectors to display the message “A Shot in the Dark” on campus buildings. Students used animations and images from the Free the Vaccine logo.
“This work has inspired the students to be involved in their community. We are working on projects focusing on monuments, statues and erased histories, and one of the first projects will be a trail of “monuments” memorializing lives lost to COVID.”
Susan Smith, Director University of Maine Intermedia Program
Total pay-outs enough to vaccinate 1.3 billion people, the same as the population of Africa
Ahead of shareholder meetings for the giant pharmaceutical corporations, the People’s Vaccine Alliance calculates that Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have paid out $26 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to their shareholders in the past 12 months.
This would be enough to pay to vaccinate at least 1.3 billion people, the equivalent of the population of Africa.
The shareholder meetings begin on 22 April. Protests are expected outside the meetings in the US and UK while investors inside the meetings will be presenting resolutions to expand vaccine access. There is a growing backlash against the de facto privatisation of successful COVID-19 vaccines and pressure on the pharma firms to openly license the intellectual property and share the technology and know-how with qualified vaccine producers across the world.
While the global economy remains frozen due to the slow and uneven vaccine rollout worldwide, the soaring shares of vaccine makers has created a new wave of billionaires.
The founder of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, is now worth $5.9 billion and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel $5.2 billion. According to regulatory filings, Bancel has cashed out more than $142 million in Moderna stock since the pandemic began. Many other investors have also become billionaires in the last few months, while the International Chamber of Commerce projects a worst-case GDP loss of $9 trillion due to global vaccine inequity.
“This is a public health emergency, not a private profit opportunity,” said Oxfam Health Policy Manager Anna Marriott. “We should not be letting corporations decide who lives and who dies while boosting their profits. We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine.”
‘Vaccine apartheid is not a natural phenomenon but the result of governments stepping back and allowing corporations to call the shots. Instead of creating new vaccine billionaires we need to be vaccinating billions in developing countries. It is appalling that Big Pharma is making huge pay-outs to wealthy shareholders in the face of this global health emergency,” Marriott said.
One of the reasons Pharma companies have been able to generate such large profits is because of intellectual property rules that restrict production to a handful of companies.
Last week, 175 former heads of state and Nobel Prize winners, including Gordon Brown, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Francoise Hollande wrote to President Biden to support the temporary waiving of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to enable the rapid scale up of vaccine production across the world. They join the 1.5 million people in the US and other nations who have signalled their support for a Peoples Vaccine.
Over 100 low- and middle-income nations, led by India and South Africa, are calling at the World Trade Organisation for a waiver of intellectual property protections on COVID-19 products during the pandemic, a move so far opposed by the US, EU and other rich nations. The Biden administration is reportedly considering dropping US opposition to the waiver, with the US Trade Representative saying at the WTO that “the market once again has failed in meeting the health needs of developing countries.”
Moderna, Pfizer/BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Oxford/AstraZeneca received billions in public funding and guaranteed pre-orders, including $12 billion from the US government alone. They also made use of many years of publicly funded research and discoveries. Researchers for Universities Allied for Essential Medicines found that only 3% of the R&D costs to develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and its underlying technology was privately funded. AstraZeneca is producing and supplying the vaccine at no profit during the pandemic.
“These vaccines were funded by public money and are desperately needed worldwide if we are to end this pandemic,” said Heidi Chow, Senior Campaigns and Policy Manager at Global Justice Now.
“It’s morally bankrupt for rich country leaders to allow a small group of corporations to keep the vaccine technology and know-how under lock and key while selling their limited doses to the highest bidder.” Chow added.
Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s successful mRNA vaccines are set to become two of the three bestselling pharmaceutical products in the world. The companies are projecting revenues of $33.5 billion in 2021 from their vaccines.
Their vaccines are also the most expensive, ranging from $13.50 to $74 per course, with both firms looking to increase prices. In an investor call, Pfizer cited between $150 and $170 a dose as the typical price it receives for vaccines. This is despite a study from the Imperial College in London showing that the cost of production of new mRNA vaccines could be between 60 cents and $2 a dose.
The two firms have also sold the vast majority of their doses to rich nations. Moderna has so far allotted 97% of their vaccines to wealthy countries and Pfizer 85%. Co-developed with the US Government’s National Institutes of Health, Moderna’s vaccine is likely to make $5 billion in profits in 2021. The company received $5.45 billion in public subsidy.
All the major pharmaceutical companies are fiercely opposed to the open sharing of technology and the suspension of intellectual property protections. The CEO of Pfizer responded to moves by the WHO to pool vaccine technology to enable other qualified producers to make vaccines by saying he thought it was “nonsense, and… it’s also dangerous.”
The African Alliance’s Maaza Seyoum, who is leading the People’s Vaccine Alliance’s Africa efforts said “Big business as usual will not end this pandemic. This is clearer now more than ever. President Biden has an historic opportunity to show that he will put the health of all of humanity and shared economic prosperity ahead of the private profits of a few corporations.”
Notes to editors
The People’s Vaccine Alliance is a movement of health, humanitarian and human rights organisations, past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders and economists advocating that COVID-19 vaccines are manufactured rapidly and at scale, as global common goods, free of intellectual property protections and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.
More information of each of the leading western vaccine producers: Oxford/ Astra Zeneca, Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer/ BioNtech, Moderna/NIH and Novovax can be found in the following Oxfam Media Brief, Shot at Recovery.
The total shareholder payouts is the sum of Total Dividends Paid and Share Repurchases in the companies’ financial year 2020, as found in company financial filings. The average vaccine cost, $19, is based on the median average of the 5 leading vaccine producers. At this price, the $25.74 billion in shareholder pay-outs could pay for 1.354 billion doses. The Peoples Vaccine does not endorse a price of $19 dollars and is only using this as an illustration. Prices can and should be far lower than this to make vaccinating the world possible. The population of Africa is estimated by the UN to be 1.36 billion people.
The AGM dates are:
Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson – 22nd April 2021 Moderna – 28th April 2021 Novavax – Not listed yet AstraZeneca – 11th May 2021
Public funding (est.)*
Price per course (est.)
COVID-19 vaccine sales (est. 2021)
COVID-19 vaccine profit (est. 2021)
Dose distribution: high-income countries (est.)
Dose distribution: low- & middle-income countries (est.)
CEO pay (FY2020)
Shareholder payouts (FY2020)
AstraZeneca/Oxford University (AZD1222)
$4.38 to $10
1 billion doses (33%)
2 billion doses (67%)
$3.6 billion in dividends (AstraZeneca)
Johnson & Johnson (Ad26COVS1)
$8.50 to $10
901 million doses (43%)
1.2 billion doses (57%)
$10.5 billion in dividends + $3.2 billion in share buybacks = Total $13.7 billion
Moderna/NIH (mRNA-1273 vaccine)
$24 to $74
1.25 billion (97%)
35.2 million (3%)
914 million (59%)
645 million (41%)
$13.50 to $39
$7.5 billion (Pfizer)
$7.5 billion (BioNTech)
$2 billion (Pfizer)
$2 billion (BioNTech)
1.67 billion (85%)
290 million (15%)
$8.44 billion in dividends (Pfizer)
*Transparency in public funding is lacking across all the COVID-19 vaccine developers, making firm figures difficult. Oxfam arrived at these estimates by analyzing the research and development, manufacturing and advanced purchase deals made between the companies and some governments, notably the US. While Oxfam attempted to include all sources of public funding across these 3 areas (research and development, manufacturing and procurement), we were not able to be comprehensive due to contract opacity. Note also that these sums do not include the public investments in years of early research, which preceded COVID but was essential to these vaccines succeeding. Theses amounts also do not include purely philanthropic contributions. As a result, these estimates are conservative, and likely much less than the total public investments.
Please join the Program on Information, Justice and IP at American University for a one year retrospective of the Open COVID Pledge. We will examine the origins of the pledge and the reasons for pledgors to take the pledge, the potential of pledges to serve the public interest and future opportunities for pledges to promote innovation that serves the greater good. Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 will be present and particupating!
We know governments can do much more to end the global pandemic, including sharing vaccine recipes and helping the world make billions more doses.
Join us May 5th in Washington, DC for a Rally for a People’s Vaccine and to call on the Biden administration to ensure urgent access to safe and effective COVID-19 treatments and vaccines for everyone, everywhere.
Where: 4th and Madison SW, National Mall, Washington, D.C
When: May 5th, 2:00 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Millions in the Global South will not get COVID-19 vaccines until 2024. The Biden administration has an opportunity to make vaccines available by supporting the TRIPS Waiver at the World Trade Organization, as proposed by India and South Africa. Furthermore, the U.S. can and should invest money in scaling up global vaccine manufacturing. Join the call to #FreeTheVaccine!
¡Rally de DC por una vacuna del pueblo!
Sabemos que los gobiernos pueden hacer mucho más para poner fin a la pandemia mundial, incluso compartir recetas de vacunas y ayudar al mundo a producir miles de millones de dosis más.
Únase a nosotros este 5 de mayo en Washington, DC para una manifestación por una vacuna popular y para pedir a la administración de Biden que garantice el acceso urgente a tratamientos y vacunas COVID-19 seguros y efectivos para todos, en todas partes.
¿Le gustaría recibir el boletín informativo Libera la vacuna para COVID-19?
Universities were graded in the following categories: Access, Innovation, Empowerment, and new this year Transparency andCOVID-19. As of publishing, of the sixty research universities, only two institutions have received the highest grade, which is a “B-” (Harvard University and Georgetown University). A stark contrast to the majority of failing grades, even with a generous grading curve. Below are some of the key findings from the report:
Fifteen percent of universities devoted no research funding to global health research; most devote 1-5%.
Fifteen percent of schools devoted no medical research funding to neglected diseases; most devote 0.51-1.0%.
Between 11% and 30% of university biomedical research is published in open-access journals.
NO universities reported having policies that require researchers publish all the results of their clinical trials.
Half of the universities have made no commitments to equitable COVID-19 biomedical licensing practices.
Some universities, however, do continue to make improving access to medicines and their grade a priority. For example, Georgetown University was “extremely pleased that its efforts in socially-responsible licensing and related policy have been recognized by this significant change in our UAEM “report card” score”.
Despite ranking in the “Overall Top Ten” and accepting millions of dollars of public funding for COVID-19, the following universities have made ZERO public commitments to equitable COVID-19 biomedical licensing. This means that there will be limited to no protection for the public of access or affordability of COVID-19 innovations developed on these campuses.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
26 COVID-19 research projects and $91,322,135 total public funding
University of Washington, Seattle
3 COVID-19 projects, $21,473,537 total public funding
Case Western Reserve University
4 COVID-19 projects, $3,020,526 total public funding funding
Merith Basey, Executive Director of UAEM North America highlights the urgent need for universities to share their IP: “Universities have a moral and ethical responsibility to the public to openly share the intellectual property on the taxpayer-funded COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics we all paid to invent. [Through Operation Warp Speed, $16 billion of American taxpayer money has been spent on the virus.] How many more thousands have to die before American universities decide to act? If not now, when nearly 555,000 of their fellow citizens have perished, then when? None of us will truly be safe until people all over the world can have access to a COVID-19 vaccine. We are calling on universities to take action now by sharing their IP and know-how via the WHO-recognized mechanisms, including the Open COVID Pledge and C-TAP. There is no time to waste.”
Over the past year, students from Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) have worked to develop a mapping tool that tracks public funding of research and development for COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.
Developed over the past year during the pandemic, the powerful and dynamic tool demonstrates the indispensable role of taxpayer money and public research institutions, especially universities, in the development of novel medical technologies. By visualizing where public funds are being directed, this tool enhances transparency regarding the significant public investment into COVID-19 research. It allows the public to hold recipients accountable to their moral responsibilities.
The mapping tool was first released in May 2020, and this release is an update which includes new data and more countries. “UAEM’s analysis boldly emphasizes the crucial role of public funds provided to public research institutions to innovate health technologies against COVID-19.”
April is turning out to be a BIG month for taking action and putting pressure on big pharma and governments (especially rich country governments) in our call for a People’s Vaccine!
What’s happening in April?
Pharma shareholder meetings and more meetings of the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Council to discuss waiver of COVID-19 vaccine monopolies give us an opportunity to ramp up pressure:
April 22 – Informal WTO TRIPS Council meeting
April 22 – J&J and Pfizer annual shareholder meetings
April 30 – Formal WTO TRIPS Council meeting
April 30 – AstraZeneca virtual shareholder event including Q&A w/CEO
May 5-6 – WTO General Council meeting
May 11 – AstraZeneca annual general meeting (closed-door)
What actions are being planned?
Actions on the ground
People’s Vaccine Alliance partners are organizing actions at pharma headquarters and other key locations. Sign up to stay up to date as plans come together. You can contact Emily Sanderson with any questions about US actions or if you want to organize an action where you are.
April 21 – April 30 (and beyond) – Jonas Salk Around the World Bring Jonas Salk and his scientific and philosophical spirit to as many places as possible to remind people of a role model who prioritized people’s well-being over profit.
April 21 – “Ask a CEO” Twitterstorm As shareholder meetings approach, we ask the CEOs of Big Pharma whether they will commit to (or why not?) sharing the science, tech and know how around their vaccines, to ensure everyone, everywhere can be vaccinated. Use the tool below to join the twitterstorm and check out #AskTheCEO on Twitter.
April 29 – Mobilising support for patent law reform locally and internationally An online discussion on overcoming barriers to medicines, vaccines, and medical tools for cancer, diabetes, HIV and TB, as well as COVID-19. This is even more important as the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS Council meets on 30 April to discuss the proposal to waive patents at the WTO by South Africa and India.
Read the letter and see the full list of signatories here.
On April 14, the People’s Vaccine Alliance sent a letter to The White House and to the US Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, signed by former Heads of State and Government and Nobel Laureates who expressed “[grave] concern by the very slow progress in scaling up global COVID-19 vaccine access and inoculation in low- and middle-income countries.”
The letter calls for urgency from the Biden Administration to “put the collective right to safety for all ahead of the commercial monopolies of the few.” This urgent action entails supporting temporary waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is openly shared through the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. Further, these key actions “should be accompanied by coordinated global investment in research, development, and manufacturing capacity to tackle this pandemic and prepare us for future ones, as part of a more robust international health architecture.”
The letter was launched in Financial Times and has seem an incredible amount of support and commentary. In an opinion piece in USA Today (and in El Pais in Spanish), President Juan Manuel Santos, former President of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, notes the “industrious role of the intellectual property system”, but shows why waiving COVID-19 monopolies is necessary alongside other asks. President Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, in The Times, called on EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders to suspend vaccine patents to end the pandemic.
175 former heads of state and government and Nobel Laureates from across the globe signed the letter.
On April 8 2020 Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 held it’s first online meeting. Since then we’ve had over 700 people participate in our campaign. We’ve don’e actions all over the world, had some pretty special folks stop by, and kept our eyes on the goal of achieving safe, effective, affordable vaccines for everyone across the globe. We asked a few of our participants to share some reflections of their time with Free the Vaccine over the past year, and here’s what they had to give…
Bringing together her art and her activism
Rachel Gita Karp shares:
When I joined Free the Vaccine in April 2020, I was an artist and an activist that was trying to tie the two aspects of my life together, but I wasn’t too sure if I was being particularly affective or effective in any of it.
But then in just the first few weeks, I took part in things I would never have considered possible.
Throughout that first season, Free the Vaccine was such a central part of my life. So I decided to try to make it more formally a part of my life–and more things I would never have considered possible happened: I became the Lead Project Manager for the campaign, and I also started working for one of its co-founders, the Center for Artistic Activism.
In the months that have followed, I’ve seen and supported hundreds of people like me–with a similar passion for bringing vital, systemic change to our world–join the campaign. Together we’ve learned about artistic activism and access to medicines and created immensely affective and effective actions that are making COVID-19 healthcare more equitable and accessible around the world.
Inspiration through tools and tactics of creative activism
Dannie Snyder, one of the minds behind the Dolly Parton Jolene parody video reflect on her evolution from artist to activist during her time with Free the Vaccine. See Dannie’s projects in our exhibit.
Hope and purpose through Free the Vaccine
From Sernah Essien – A little over one year ago, I hung up after an hour-long phone call with Merith, the executive director of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and a woman I’m proud to call a friend. We discussed with incredulity the speed in which life was changing in response to the pandemic. I probably sounded scared and unhinged (honestly, who didn’t then), but she didn’t comment on it. Instead, she told me about an idea she’d begun to work on, a virtual advocacy group that would advocate proactively to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine. We both knew the decades-long history of global inequity in access to medicines, so we seized the rare opportunity to organize for vaccine equity even before a vaccine was approved. Our goal was three-pronged: any COVID health technology should be made available to all, sustainably priced, and free at the point of delivery. With this goal in mind, we, as students and organizers in UAEM, launched the
Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 campaign on April 8, 2020, in conjunction with our creative collaborators, the Center for Artistic Activism.
In the year that I’ve been involved with Free the Vaccine, I’ve had my outlook on activism and organizing transformed. The campaign emphasizes the use of creative, culturally-informed tactics towards achieving our goals. As a fairly traditional “let’s-write-4-op-eds-and-organize-a-protest” activist, this emphasis was foreign to me and seemed like a waste of time. However, it is precisely our creative tactics that have allowed us to have the success and virality— no pun intended— we have had. Through music videos, collector cards, inflatable syringes, and more, we’ve brought visibility to the urgent issue of equitable access to COVID-19 health technologies and stoked conversation around man-made barriers to medicines and vaccines. Interestingly, encouraging creativity
in our actions enabled us to think creatively about our goals as well. During season 2, a participant suggested we target a group other than a university; though I was initially hesitant, I asked myself, “Why not?” I’ve learned there is no one way to build power or reach advocacy goals. That realization was liberating, and has enabled us to welcome hundreds of people from various backgrounds into our campaign.
Our work in this campaign has been as informed by powerful non-governmental bodies such as the World Health Organization as much as it has been by our community of participants spanning 6 continents.
Our global community has provided crucial context on how people within their countries perceive vaccines, have responded to the pandemic, and how the actions of particular countries influence many others.
Most importantly, this community has provided a practical example of global solidarity at work. In banding together to build power and convince institutions and governments alike to prioritize global solidarity in their response, we have literally and figuratively provided the blueprint for making it happen.
In a time where hope has not been constant and the distance between friendly faces feels infinitely large, Free the Vaccine has been crucial for my own sense of purpose and connectedness. From being a Wednesday night DJ to productive squad meetings, I have sourced an unexpected amount of joy and belonging from the former strangers involved in this campaign. These strangers turned comrades have pushed me forward, and I am confident we will continue to build our community and push each other forward until our vision is realized.
A few words from our wise counselors…
Members of the Free the Vaccine advisory group shared a few words too!
The question I’m asked with increasing frequency by journalists, historians, archivists and activists is, “Are there any similarities between HIV/AIDS and COVID-19, and are you aware of any activism surrounding this current pandemic?” I have a lot to say about the subject, and one of them is to brag about the fantastic global work being done by every one of you! Thank you for your amazing work this year, and for giving me such a clear direction to point them in. –Avram Finkelstein
Declan Sakuls gave it everything he had to be able to get the message of vaccine equity to the world! Don’t worry, he finally got there.