In August this year, a coalition of civil society organizations in South Africa, which includes the Health Justice Initiative (HJI) and the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), achieved a remarkable breakthrough in the discussion surrounding COVID-19 vaccines. This milestone was reached after the Pretoria High Court issued an order instructing the Department of Health to disclose the contracts and proceedings of meetings pertaining to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer, Janssen, the Serum Institute of India, and the public-private global health partnership Gavi.
COVID-19 cases persist all over the world, causing special concern in regions where vaccination rates are low due to inequities in access to vaccines. As the pandemic continues, analyses of the global response continue to point out the dangers of the predominant multi-stakeholder driven campaigns. One of the latest in line of such analyses is a report published by Transnational Institute and Friends of the Earth International in July. It zooms into how transnational corporations (TNCs) seized the opportunity to gain more power over international institutions and expand markets during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the launch of the report, Lauren Paremoer from the People’s Health Movement underlined that the capture of the multilateral system by TNCs and private philanthropies was already underway before the pandemic, but the extraordinary circumstances led to an unanticipated expansion.
As major pharmaceutical executives and investors convened virtually on Thursday for their annual shareholder meetings, campaigners took to the streets in the U.S., the U.K., India, South Africa, and elsewhere to condemn major drug companies for hoarding technology and prioritizing profits over equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines. Outside Pfizer's U.K. headquarters, activists dropped mock sacks of money and positioned wheelbarrows full of fake cash near the building's entrance to denounce the New York-based company's opposition to tech transfer initiatives and other efforts to expand coronavirus vaccine production in developing nations, where billions have been denied access to the shots. Pfizer has also faced backlash for obstructing African countries' attempts to study Paxlovid, the company's oral anti-viral treatment for Covid-19.
As the Biden administration falls woefully behind on its pledges to donate Covid vaccines to the world, on Wednesday, the U.S. House slashed $5 billion for the global pandemic response from an omnibus spending bill. The cut to Covid funds underscores the capriciousness of the U.S. government’s promises, and lends credence to public health activists who argue that countries in the Global South cannot rely on the pledges of wealthy nations, and should be given the information they need to manufacture vaccines themselves.
Bittersweet is the passage of this year. There have been some immense victories and some catastrophic defeats, the most terrible being the failure of the Global North countries to adopt a democratic attitude towards confronting the COVID-19 pandemic and creating equitable access to key resources, from life-saving medical equipment to vaccines. Tragically, by the end of this pandemic, we will have learnt the Greek alphabet from the variants named after its letters (Delta, Omicron), which continue to emerge. Cuba leads the world with the highest vaccination rates, using its indigenous vaccines to protect its population as well as those of countries from Venezuela to Vietnam, following a long history of medical solidarity.
Geneva - An international coalition of human rights law groups, public health experts, and civil society organizations is taking legal action against the US, UK, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland, on the grounds that these countries are in violation of international human rights law by failing to intervene on what has been an inequitable and racially discriminatory roll-out of the vaccine and other COVID healthcare technologies. In an appeal to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the coalition charges that by failing to lift intellectual property barriers on all COVID-19 medical technologies through a TRIPS waiver (or to effectively implement it through technology transfers), the US, UK, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland are in violation of the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a human rights convention ratified by nearly all countries in the world.
Health activists gathered at Geneva’s central train station on Wednesday, October 13, calling on the EU, the UK, Norway and Switzerland to endorse the TRIPS waiver proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO). “As Europeans, we are ashamed that our political leaders are among the last opponents to a just solution to end the pandemic and save lives,” said the campaigners in a press release. “If patents were lifted today, we could vaccinate the whole world in less than one year,” stressed Frank Prouhet, a doctor and activist from the collective Stop patents on Covid-19 vaccines, citing research by Public Citizen. Stéfanie Prezioso from the left platform Ensemble à Gauche (Together on the Left) said it was high time to admit that COVAX is not ensuring equitable access to vaccines in the Global South, and that people there continue to die because European governments do not want to stand up to Big Pharma.
Washington — Activists gathered outside the homes of the White House chief of staff and the CEO of Moderna to demand the Biden administration and private drug companies do more to address the global vaccine shortage. "Really, we're bringing attention to the fact that both Moderna and the U.S. government have been completely inadequate in scaling up vaccine access globally," James Krellenstein, co-founder of the AIDS advocacy group, PrEP4All told Sinclair Broadcast Group. Activists with PrEP4All, Health GAP, the Global Health Justice Partnership and experts in epidemiology and global health joined the protests which were staged simultaneously at White House chief of staff Ron Klain's house in Chevy Chase, Md. and Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel's home in Cambridge, Mass.
The highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus is sweeping Africa in a deadly third wave of the pandemic. Over the last month, there has been an 80-percent increase in cases across the continent, with South Africa alone reporting more than 14,000 new cases in a single day. Despite the fact that fewer than 2 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated, wealthy countries such as the United States are making plans for booster shots for their populations, continuing to hoard doses in a stunning show of vaccine imperialism and capitalist irrationality. The current wave is Africa’s deadliest so far, and is taking a toll on the continent’s battered economies and prospects for recovery. More than 7.4 million cases and 187,000 deaths have been recorded across Africa’s 54 countries, although researchers believe that the real figure is likely much higher.
In an official communication issued on June 7, the COVAX initiative notified the Government of Venezuela that UBS bank (United Bank Switzerland) blocked and put “under investigation” the last four payments made by Venezuela to complete the financial requirements for COVID-19 vaccines. This news was reported to the nation this Wednesday, June 10, by the Executive Vice President of the Republic, Delcy Rodríguez, during an international academic conference entitled “Unilateral Coercive Measures: Disrespect of International Law and Grave Human Consequences.” Rodríguez stated that the letter, addressed to the Venezuelan ambassador in Geneva, Héctor Constant Rosales, by Santiago Cornejo from COVAX, specified that the final four payments were blocked.
There is a struggle right now to push the World Trade Organization to waive patent protections for medicines, vaccines and technology used for the COVID-19 pandemic. James Love of Knowledge Ecology International explains why that would be an important but not sufficient step to increase access to medicines and vaccines. There are steps governments could take right now to share critical information and expertise to lessen the disparities between rich and poor nations in access to vaccines. Love goes on to explain how there could be greater openness in sharing information in general and how pharmaceutical research and production could be done in ways that improve innovation and make access more equitable. He points the way to where activists can best focus their energy on this issue.
The White House announced Thursday its plan to donate 25 million excess Covid-19 vaccine doses to other nations—a plan progressives described as an "inadequate" response to the ongoing pandemic, urging the Biden administration to invest $25 billion to ramp-up global vaccine manufacturing. According to he Associated Press, the U.S. "aims to share 80 million doses globally by the end of June, most through COVAX," the United Nations-backed program for global vaccine sharing. "Of the first tranche of 25 million doses, the White House said about 19 million will go to COVAX," with the remaining 6 million directed to "U.S. allies and partners." "The donation of these few doses is welcome but deeply insufficient, and no substitute for a plan of scale and urgency to end the pandemic," Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program, said in a statement.
According to the council, the manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa could be achieved through sharing of the intellectual property right, technology transfers and open non-exclusive licensing.
Several of President Joe Biden’s most powerful appointees and advisers have had business relationships with pharmaceutical giants lobbying the administration on COVID-19 and intellectual property issues, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Poster. Those ties — and Biden’s longtime alliance with pharmaceutical industry interests — could prove particularly relevant as drug companies now try to defang any new waiver of patent rules that might reduce their profits and facilitate the wider distribution of vaccines to COVID-afflicted countries. Last summer, Biden broke with his own legislative record and pledged to support relaxing those intellectual property rules to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, saying it “is the only humane thing in the world to do.”
On March 29, Eric, the most prominent lay leader at my church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, perished from COVID-19. He was one of 685 people across the United States and one of 15 in Massachusetts to die from the disease that day. On April 6, Eric’s mother Elmo also died from the coronavirus, one of 907 in the US and one of 12 in Massachusetts. Both were likely casualties of a nation and state that betrayed them more than once during the pandemic: First by failing to quell the virus last year; secondly by allowing people like them to fall behind in getting vaccines; and thirdly by relaxing coronavirus restrictions while the nation remains riddled with racial vaccine disparities.