We all want to end the pandemic, reopen the economy, and keep people healthy. Our governments and big pharmaceutical companies must come together to find urgent solutions that benefit all of us, including a COVID-19 vaccine.
A people’s vaccine is not only about fairness; it’s necessary to build herd immunity and return to normal life. The quickest way to open up our businesses and schools is to give everyone access to a vaccine, prioritizing essential workers and others who are at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19.
More than $10 billion of our tax dollars have been invested with pharma companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Merck to develop the COVID-19 vaccine, yet there's still no guarantee that everyone will even be able to afford it.
Sound unfair? That’s because it is.
Your ability to stay safe and healthy should never be dictated by the amount of money in your pocket. That’s the COVID-19 vaccine must be a people’s vaccine.
We break down the people’s vaccine:
Short answer: A people's vaccine is a vaccine for the people — free of charge, easy to access, and widely distributed based on need.
The pandemic is putting billions of people at risk of being pushed into hunger and poverty. Conflict zones like Yemen and crowded refugee camps like Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable.
Meanwhile in the US, half of adults are out of a job. Small businesses are struggling, with more than 100,000 shutting down permanently already.
Ending a global pandemic takes a global approach. A COVID-19 vaccine will only work to protect us if everyone who needs it can get it. We won't end the pandemic if only the wealthy and rich countries get the vaccine because they can afford to pay.
Right now, Oxfam, the UN, and 140 world leaders are demanding the world unites to ensure that any safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines become patent-free, distributed fairly, and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.
Short answer: pharma companies and our governments.
Pharma companies are developing COVID-19 vaccines. But we cannot let them exploit the pandemic to make huge profits. Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, and Merck are expected to make $40 billion in profits in 2020 — that's $7.5 billion more during the pandemic than in previous years.
If you’re wondering how Big Pharma can do this, it’s because the companies have complete control over how much they can charge for life-saving COVID-19 vaccines and drugs. The US government has already spent more than $10 billion of our taxpayer dollars to speed up the race for a vaccine, so it has a special responsibility to make sure the vaccines are safe, effective, free and fairly distributed to all, especially those most in need.
Short answer: Make the COVID-19 vaccine affordable, publicly available, and patent-free.
Pharma companies want to hold patents on the COVID-19 vaccine and drug treatments so they can control the product and set a high price for these life-saving goods. To be effective against this virus, they must forgo “business as usual” that would create a monopoly on supply in this time of crisis. Prescription drugs and vaccines will only work if people can afford them. Taxpayers are already paying for the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, so it should be the people’s vaccine—with companies sharing the vaccine patents and technologies freely.
The US government must enforce these measures on companies and build public trust so that everyone believes and understands the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Oxfam is calling on US pharma companies – including Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, and Pfizer – to be transparent, collaborative, and fair in developing and producing COVID-19 vaccines that will keep us healthy and end the pandemic. This means they should allow for worldwide, low-cost production to meet the unprecedented demand by forgoing monopoly control over the COVID-19 vaccines and treatments they are developing with our taxpayer dollars. Oxfam is also calling on companies to support fair global distribution of the vaccines, with those who are at most risk and in most need receiving the vaccines first.
Oxfam has been advocating for fair pharmaceutical prices and patent laws that can benefit poor people for decades. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the poorest people the hardest, there is a danger that lack of access to an affordable vaccine will widen the inequality gaps between rich and poor—both in the US and around the world. This could set back the fight against the injustice of poverty and inequality by decades.
As taxpayers, we’ve already paid for a good deal of the front-end research and development. What we need now is for the pharma companies to be transparent about the true costs it takes to produce the vaccines they are developing, and then for the companies to sell them as close to true cost as possible. They should not set the vaccine price to benefit their shareholders and CEOs at the expense of our health. This will also allow governments and health agencies to cover this cost and then deliver the vaccines, free of charge to the public in both rich and poor countries.
Politics has no place in the process to approve the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. Scientists—not politicians—should be empowered to determine which vaccines to approve. And the FDA should not approve any vaccine for use that has not been conclusively demonstrated to be safe and effective.
It’s essential that the people’s vaccine be available to all people, especially those who are most vulnerable and bearing the highest burden of the pandemic. In the United States there is widespread discrimination against Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in the health care system, and many do not trust the very health institutions on which we rely to develop and distribute a vaccine for COVID-19.
There is good reason for this lack of trust: A history of unethical medical experiments on Black people, exclusion and discrimination based on race and ethnicity, and ongoing inadequate health outcomes at high cost are common for many Black and historically marginalized groups. This makes Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in poor health more vulnerable to COVID-19 because the health care system has failed them (as well as other factors such as where they live and work).
The development and roll out of a coronavirus vaccine needs to reflect this reality and resulting lack of trust: Vaccine trials participants should only be involved with their full consent, and governments and institutions responsible for distributing the vaccine must build trust and ensure affordable, equitable access for the most vulnerable people. Creating and distributing the people’s vaccine should be part of an effort to redefine how health care works, making it more accessible for the people who are most vulnerable to coronavirus and other deadly diseases.
President Biden has tremendous power to help decide who gets access to protection from this virus, when and at what cost. As a cross-section of leaders from public health, business, faith-based, racial justice and labor organizations, public service, entertainment and economics, we join our voices to call on the President of the United States to commit to a People’s Vaccine.Read the letter
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What is Oxfam, what do we do, and how do we do it? Here’s the information you need.
Here are five things we need to do in order to get a universally available and affordable vaccine to help end the COVID-19 pandemic
Oxfam’s latest analysis finds that wealthy nations have purchased 51 percent of the promised doses of leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, while representing just 13 percent of the world’s population.