Our movement for vaccine equity saw a huge win when the Biden Administration announced, on May 5, that it would support a waiver of the TRIPS agreement for COVID-19 vaccines at the WTO. It means that the US and other governments–usually beholden to pharmaceutical corporation profit motives–are seeing the need for global solidarity and action to end the unjust suffering and death brought on by nationalistic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This incredible breakthrough has come with the organizing and advocacy of a coalition of organizations across the globe. Free the Vaccine for COVID-19, through UAEM and C4AA, brought together artists, access to medicines advocates, and really just anybody who saw early on the need to raise the alarm that access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics would be hindered by corporate greed and patent monopolies.
Free the Vaccine campaign project managers reflected on how it feels and what it means to them to see this their efforts as part of this collective and global coalition have moved needle toward vaccine equity at the highest levels:
The [rally for vaccine access in Washington, DC] was amazing and almost surreal in how the news [of the Administration’s decision] was announced in the middle of our rally. People were cheering and hugging there was a lot of emotion in the atmosphere. In the context of Free the Vaccine, it was really cool to be ahead of the curve and see the power we have in our advocacy. Definitely, the moment was pushed by events happening in India, but we won something that was as a result of our actions all the calls we made, rallies we held, etc. We supported [a TRIPS waiver] before it was cool, before a lot of government officials threw their support behind it, and that feels good. We were always on the right side of history and shows that we fight the good fight!!!
It’s so amazing and surreal to see our work making a difference and impacting lives on a global scale in real-time. This work can be challenging since big wins don’t come around too often and you don’t know how close you are until you get there, but when you do get there and get that win it feels so amazing to know that your message is being seen and heard. It’s gratifying that our efforts are making an impact.
Hearing the news, it almost felt like someone was playing a joke on us! We’ve been working towards a breakthrough like this for months, and even before the waiver was proposed we were wishing for something like it – something ground-breaking enough to make the difference needed. This is a GIGANTIC leap forward in the right direction. Finally the goal we’ve been striving for feels like a very real possibility – vaccine equity’.
I’ve been so overwhelmed and grateful in the BEST way since the historic moment yesterday afternoon. It feels so surreal that our advocacy efforts from the past three seasons/past year has paid off! I just hope the bureaucratic rigamarole doesn’t take too long and that this will pave the way for universities like my own, UCLA, to sign onto the OCP/C-TAP and bring about a more equitable end to the pandemic in a quicker manner!
FOCUSING ON THE POSITIVES THOUGH – THIS IS BEYOND HUGE FOR US AND THE FACT THAT WE EVEN CONTRIBUTED A SMALL PORTION TOWARDS IT MEANS EVERYTHING!!!
When I heard the news I was shocked that this actually happened, but I also felt like I was sharing in the success of the entire campaign. As part of the [campaign targeting universities] I felt kind of less responsible as I’m also in Canada, but it was such a massive success that it felt like the victory flowed throughout the entire campaign and each individual contributed to it.
In general, when I get involved in activism I never expect to see results immediately – in fact, I don’t expect to see results on the order of systemic change at all, and simply hope that my contributions will add on to a collective rhetoric in some small, abstract way. So hearing about the Biden-Harris administration’s decision to support the TRIPS waiver while in front of the Capitol, wearing a Care Bear costume, and waving a banner demanding that they do just that was, in a word, surreal. I think it’s very rare to be able to see tangible policy change at the moment it’s happening, so it was both incredibly exciting and incredibly humbling to be a part of the rally yesterday and to see our vision coming to life in real time.
The devastation in India could have been avoided had the TRIPS waiver been passed already. We will continue to see destruction and loss of life on a global scale if we do not make it clear to the Biden Administration that they need to support the TRIPS waiver.
Many Representatives throughout the country have come out in support of the TRIPS Waiver. We need Representatives Nanette Barragán and Linda Sanchez to sign on to an important letter circulating among House Democrats in support of the TRIPS waiver. They need to hear that people all over the country want them to support the TRIPS waiver.
Please call both their DC offices and in district offices Monday, May 3, and follow the script below.
Rep. Nanette Barragán
DC Office: 202-225-8220
District Office: 310-831-1799
Rep. Linda Sanchez
DC Office: 202-225-6676
District Office: 562-860-5050
Leave a voice message if no one picks up
Hi, my name is <NAME>,
I’m calling to urge Representative <CONGRESSPERSON> to sign onto the Schakowsky, Blumenauer and DeLauro letter in support of the TRIPS Waiver.
This waiver is critical in the global fight against the pandemic, and it is important that your boss signs this letter today.
<You will likely be asked for your name and contact information>
Common Dreams highlighted the week of action in the US calling for the Biden Administration to support a waver of patent monopolies at the World Trade Organization.
The week of action in the US is part of the broader People’s Vaccine weeks of coordinated action to pressure pharma and governments around the world to take necessary steps to ensure that vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 are available to everyone equitable.
On April 22nd, Free the Vaccine joined several activist and advocacy organizing groups for a People’s Shareholder Meeting. It took place at Pfizer headquarters in New York City while the annual shareholders’ meeting went on inside.
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.”