Pfizer is getting away with murder by only allowing rich countries to get the lion’s share of its COVID-19 vaccines. Today, I am putting my body on the line to stop this gross inequity.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise again due to the dangerous Delta variant, it’s becoming clear to many Americans that the pandemic’s toll on the U.S. is far from over. But for much of the rest of the world, because of corporate greed, the pain and loss from COVID is set to rage unchecked through largely unvaccinated populations.
In my rural community of Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, many are still at risk of contracting COVID-19. As in other parts of the United States, those most at risk are those who refuse to be vaccinated. But the rest of the world doesn’t have this luxury: Billions of people still haven’t received their first dose not due to personal hesitancy but due to their inability to access a COVID vaccine.
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Roughly 85 percent of all COVID shots administered have been in higher-income countries, and unless pharmaceutical makers allow greater access to their formulas now, many millions of lives will be lost that can, and should, be saved.
Yet in this moment of incomprehensible global tragedy and crisis, Pfizer is spending millions to block more manufacturers from producing these desperately needed, lifesaving vaccines. Why? So that it can lock in as much profit as possible.
Here’s how it works: Under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) intellectual property rules, the private producers of the COVID-19 vaccine are given monopolies over their product. They can charge sky-high prices, while keeping the supply limited. A TRIPS waiver, which has been proposed to the WTO, would change all that and open the door for more doses to be produced at a lower cost for developing countries.
Recognizing the severity of the crisis and our shared interest in a global solution, this waiver would allow producers around the world to start manufacturing the vaccine, increasing the supply and lowering prices to make critical medication available to everyone. Putting their own profits over peoples’ lives, Pfizer is fighting tooth and nail to prevent a waiver, even if it means exacerbating the global vaccine apartheid.
President Joe Biden, after months of grassroots organizing and pressure, announced his support for the waiver this May. But he can also often be found by the side of Pfizer’s CEO and Chairman, Albert Bourla, at photo ops thanking the executive for donating pitiful amounts of vaccines to poorer countries.
Meanwhile, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is opposing waiver negotiations so that the German firm BioNTech, which helped develop Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine, can continue to reap billions in profits while the world suffers. Pfizer and BioNtech are not the heroes in the COVID crisis they claim to be.
Our demands are realistic and achievable today. Pfizer can stop blocking the waiver today. Pfizer can voluntarily share technology with the World Health Organization today. Chancellor Merkel can support the TRIPS waiver today. We can save lives today. This is not a question of science; this is a question of political will. Will politicians find the courage to fight against Big Pharma?
That’s why I joined hundreds of other demonstrators, led by Justice is Global, Health Global Access Project (GAP), and more, in a mass demonstration in New York City today calling to end vaccine apartheid and save lives everywhere. Starting at the United Nations, we took our demands to the German Consulate, where we called on Chancellor Merkel to stop blocking the waiver in advance of her upcoming visit with President Biden this week.
Today, I am one of the hundreds who are demonstrating outside Pfizer’s headquarters with signs reading “Pharma Greed Could Kill Us All,” and chanting “vaccine apartheid, no more.” Hundreds who, like me, are tired of seeing corporate greed put before human lives. We are health activists, doctors, clergy, union members, members of impacted diaspora communities, and more. Together, we linked arms, sat down, and blocked access to the Pfizer building. We are currently on E. 42nd Street in New York City, blocking the road that leads to the Pfizer building as well. We just got notified by police that they plan to take actions to remove us. You can watch the direct action on Facebook Live right now.
When it comes to COVID, corporate greed and political delays are literally killing people no different from us, except for where they live. That’s why I am risking arrest right now. Because I know a better world is possible. At this very moment, we have the technology to save countless lives. We have the knowledge and the resources to end the pandemic for everyone, everywhere.