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More Than 220 U.S. Leaders, Public Health Experts Call for a People’s Vaccine

Public health, medicine, and economics experts join artists in public letter to President Biden calling for COVID-19 vaccines to be free and available to everyone, everywhere

More than 220 leaders from the fields of public health, medicine, global development, and racial justice joined faith leaders, economists, Nobel laureates, former members of Congress and artists to sign a public letter calling on President Biden to champion a People’s Vaccine for COVID-19 — a public good that is freely and fairly available to all, prioritizing those most in need at home and around the world.

At a time when millions of Americans and people around the world face the dual ills of health and economic insecurity, with communities of color facing disproportionate burdens, and where too many households stand only one health crisis away from poverty, it has never been more important to deliver a vaccine that can serve to protect everyone, everywhere.

Signers of the letter include philanthropists Abigail Disney and Chelsea Clinton, singers Gloria Estefan and Sara Bareilles, actors Aisha Tyler, Forest Whitaker, Mark Ruffalo, and Bradley Whitford, Nobel laureates Sir Richard J. Roberts, Muhammad Yunus, and Joseph Stiglitz, professors Noam Chomsky, Philip Alston, Henry Richardson, Amy Kapczynski, John Ruggie, Darrick Hamilton, and Dani Rodrik, as well as activists Kristin Urquiza and Ady Barkan. Former labor secretary Robert Reich and former members of Congress Lynn Woolsey, Mary Jo Kilroy, Claudine Schneider, and Sander Levin also signed.

“In the battle against COVID, we must remember that none of us is safe until everyone, everywhere is safe,” said Alyssa Milano, actor, activist, and signer of the letter. “President Biden can and must bring about a People’s Vaccine so our families are safe, so people can get back to work, so we can live our lives again. Making sure that everyone gets access to a vaccine is the best way to restart our economy and save lives here and around the world.”

“The only viable strategy to beat the COVID-19 pandemic is by reaching global herd immunity. A People’s Vaccine – free, accessible, and available to everyone, everywhere – should be the cornerstone of our approach,” said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights and professor of public health and internal medicine at the University of Michigan. “Both a public health and a human rights imperative, a People’s Vaccine is the only way we can overcome the challenges posed by new COVID-19 variants that will continue to emerge around the world if we fail to vaccinate everyone. Pharmaceutical corporations must share vaccine technologies and know-how globally, while governments must immediately mobilize large-scale and decentralized manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines.”

The letter comes at a time when an increasing number of people in the United States are getting vaccinated, yet 130 countries around the world have not had access to a single dose. That’s because vaccines currently in circulation and those still in development are closely controlled by a small number of pharmaceutical companies, and individual countries are competing for the limited quantities that individual manufacturers can produce. The scarcity this competition creates means the COVID-19 crisis could be around for much longer than if a vaccine were made widely available to all.

“COVID-19 has affected the lives, health, and economic well-being of people on every continent and in every country in the world. To truly stem the tide of this pandemic, we have to take a global approach to vaccination efforts,” said Dr. Monica Peek, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Research at the MacLean Center of Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago and signer of the letter. “COVID-19 doesn’t care about borders. That’s why we have to fight for access to vaccines here at home and around the world. We need a People’s Vaccine that is accessible to everyone, everywhere, as soon as possible.”

Signers of the letter urge for the technology and know-how to make COVID-19 vaccines to be shared with the world. Patents must be licensed, data published, and technical assistance provided to teach appropriate vaccine production so that qualified manufacturers everywhere can help expand the world’s supply and prevent the type of artificial scarcity which will cost lives and livelihoods at home and abroad.

“President Biden must use all of the policy tools at his disposal to ensure global access to vaccines,” said Mariana Mazzucato, author of Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism and signer of the letter. “His actions will be what stand between his vision of building back better and the status quo, which has served us so terribly during this pandemic.” 

Renowned epidemiologist Arthur Reingold joined Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health, Peter Hotez, director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital; and Vanessa Kerry, director of the Program in Global Public Policy and Social Change at Harvard Medical School and CEO of Seed Global Health; along with a who’s who of public health experts from around the United States. Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; Oscar Chacon, executive director of Alianza Americas; and Carol Bellamy, former executive director of UNICEF, also lent their names to the effort.

Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable; Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; Donna McKay, executive director, Physicians for Human Rights; Abby Maxman, president and CEO of Oxfam America; Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen; and David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, also signed the letter.

The group calls on President Biden to:

  1. Guarantee all vaccines are sold at affordable prices, as close to cost as possible, to ensure that the U.S. and other governments can provide protection to people for free. 
  2. Ensure full transparency and accountability over U.S. funding for the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
  3. Ensure that companies and research institutions share vaccine technologies and know-how nationally and globally to overcome price and supply barriers, especially for those vaccines developed with taxpayer money.
  4. Prevent monopoly control of production in order to mobilize large-scale and decentralized manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines to adequately supply safe and effective vaccines for people here and around the world.
  5. Work collaboratively with world leaders and health authorities worldwide to deliver and implement a fair and equitable global distribution plan for the vaccine and all COVID-19 products and technologies.
  6. Empower scientists to independently determine — without fear or favor — if each vaccine is safe and effective for approval. Neither politics nor profits have a place in the vaccine approval process.
  7. Prioritize protection for those people most in need and most at risk, including frontline health care and social-care workers, essential workers, older people, people with pre-existing conditions at higher risk, and high-transmission communities here and around the world. 

“US taxpayers have already committed more than $10 billion in public money towards a COVID19 vaccine,” the letter states. “A vaccine paid for by the people should work for the people and remain of the people.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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