No ‘return to normal’: Why we need the People’s Vaccine
The People’s Vaccine initiative is a growing movement of health and humanitarian organisations, past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders and economists who are urging that when safe and effective vaccines are developed, they be produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge.
THROUGH history, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine new ways of living. As people around the world adjust to life under COVID restrictions, the demands for a more equitable, sustainable and just world after the pandemic grow ever louder. Never before have so many of us felt so connected.
The first test of this interconnectedness will be the development and distribution of the COVID vaccine. Will we allow a vaccine to be produced for profit and sold to the highest bidder? Or will we remember the solidarity that got us through the pandemic and fight for a People’s Vaccine, available to all and produced for the people, not profit?
If the COVID vaccine is allowed to be produced under a ‘business as usual’ model driven by the big pharmaceutical corporations, it could take years for billions of people to get access and those in the world’s poorest countries will be last in line.
Right now, huge pharmaceutical corporations like AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer are striking billion-dollar deals that allow them to keep their research – hugely funded by taxpayers’ money – and vaccine formulas secret. This monopoly allows them to control supply and make massive profits.
If history has taught us anything, it is that pharmaceutical corporations create and protect monopolies in order to maximise profits instead of improving public health. We have seen this with vital medicines for HIV or cancer that have been priced far out of reach of most people. Such practices would artificially inflate the price of COVID vaccines, ensuring that only the wealthiest countries can afford them and pushing poorer countries to the back of the queue.
Governments, not corporations, are funding the research, development and manufacture of vaccines. These same governments must ensure taxpayer money is not being used to line the pockets of large pharmaceutical corporations. Governments should put conditions on their funding and on companies to demand the removal of patents and other intellectual property barriers, and the transfer of technology to as many manufacturers as possible. No one company can produce enough vaccines for the whole world. So, as long as vaccine solutions are kept under lock and key, there won’t be enough to go around.
This unprecedented crisis needs bold, new solutions to end it. Our vaccine resources and knowledge should be global public goods, not the private property of pharmaceutical corporations.
The People’s Vaccine initiative is a growing movement of health and humanitarian organisations, past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders and economists who are urging that when safe and effective vaccines are developed, they be produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge. Specifically, the initiative calls on governments and pharmaceutical corporations to:
• Prevent monopolies on vaccine and treatment production to ensure research and development by research institutions and pharmaceutical companies is freely shared – including all information, data, biological material, know-how and intellectual property.
• Ensure the vaccine is provided at transparent cost price, without profit, free of charge to people, from street food sellers in Detroit to nurses in Delhi. Pricing must be transparent and based on the cost of research, development and manufacturing, as well as taking into account any public funding provided.
• Make sure the vaccine is allocated by need. Implement fair allocation of the vaccine which prioritises health workers and other at-risk groups in all countries.
• Involve all countries in the decision making. Ensure that the debate and decisions about the distribution of the vaccine involve all governments and civil society with transparent decision making.
The People’s Vaccine is supported by world leaders including the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of South Africa. Major governments such as Indonesia and Pakistan back it, as do former world leaders including Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister; Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former President of Liberia who famously defeated Ebola; and more than 50 others.
Some of the world’s top thinkers have also rallied behind the initiative, including Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Muhammad Yunus and Professor Mariana Mazzucato. Moral leaders like Mary Robinson, the Chair of the Elders and former President of Ireland, have come out in support as well. Nobel laureate Yunus has enlisted the support of public figures such as George Clooney, Matt Damon, Sharon Stone, Forest Whitaker and Bono behind his call for a patent-free COVID vaccine. Senior business leaders such as Sir Richard Branson, Azim Premji, Emmanuel Faber, Mo Ibrahim and Ratan Tata have also backed this call.
Also supporting the initiative are the UN AIDS agency UNAIDS and representatives from some of the biggest civil society organisations in the world, including those which have been at the forefront of defeating other epidemics such as Ebola, the anti-inequality network Oxfam and the International Trade Union Congress. – The People’s Vaccine u
The People’s Vaccine (https://peoplesvaccine.org) is a coalition of health and humanitarian organisations.
*Third World Resurgence No. 345/346, 2020, pp 39-40