Biolyse Pharma Corp., which makes injectable cancer drugs, was gearing up to start making generic biologic drugs, made from living organisms. Then the pandemic hit. Watching the covid death toll climb, the company decided its new production lines and equipment could be converted to making vaccines for poorer countries without the means to do so.
The pandemic has reshuffled many of our priorities and prompted us ask ourselves a lot of personal questions: Do we really need to get dressed to work from home? Will we...
The pharmaceutical industry spent a record $92 million lobbying the federal government during the first three months of 2021, putting Big Pharma on track to break its annual spending record for a second year in a row. The intense lobbying comes as countries across the world are demanding access to COVID vaccine technology and many Democrats are pushing to expand Medicare and lower prescription drug prices.
The vaccination process in the U.S. has gained momentum with every passing day. Over 249 million dosages of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, with the government on track to immunize...
By now, the majority of us are well aware of the symptoms of COVID-19. Still, the illness remains mysterious, affecting people in a variety of ways.A recent study gives more understanding...
Delivering another blow to people across the United States still struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic and related economic crisis, a Trump-appointed federal judge on Wednesday vacated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s temporary federal eviction moratorium, which was set to expire at the end of next month. First enacted under former President Donald Trump last year, the CDC moratorium has been repeatedly extended — including twice under President Joe Biden.
Prisons & Policing Jailers Tortured and Murdered Marvin Scott III, Family Says After Viewing Video Politics & Elections A New Wave of Jim Crow Laws Is Here. Here’s What You Need to Know. Politics & Elections Facebook Board Announces Trump Remains Banned. Trump Starts His Own “Platform.” Biden’s U-Turn on Refugees Aligns With Voter Support for Pro-Immigrant Policies Economy & Labor Amazon Is Dictating Personal Hygiene, Nail Length of Contract Drivers Politics & Elections Judge Says DOJ Memo on Barr’s Decision Not to Charge Trump Must Be Released Pressure is growing on the Biden administration to support a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights for COVID-related medicines and vaccines at the World Trade Organization. India and South Africa first proposed the waiver in October, but it was blocked by the United States and other wealthy members of the WTO. Big Pharma has also come out against the proposal and has lobbied Washington to preserve its monopoly control. More than 100 countries have supported the waiver, which they say is critical to ramp up production of vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests in the Global South. Ahead of the kickoff of two days of WTO important meetings in Geneva, we speak with Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “The big problem is simply not enough vaccines are being produced,” says Wallach. “The world needs 10 to 15 billion doses to reach herd immunity, and right now all of the global production together is on track to make 6 billion doses this year.” TRANSCRIPT This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form. AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman. You can sign up for our daily news digest email by texting “democracynow” — one word, no space — to 66866 today. That’s “democracynow” — one word — to 66866. This is Democracy Now! Pressure is growing on the Biden administration to support a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights for COVID-related medicines and vaccines at the World Trade Organization. The WTO has just begun two days of talks in Geneva. India and South Africa first proposed the waiver in October, but it was blocked by the United States and other wealthy countries of the WTO. Big Pharma, the pharmaceutical companies, have also come out against the proposal and has lobbied Washington to preserve its monopoly control. Supporters of the waivers say they’re critically needed to gear up the production level of vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests so desperately needed in the Global South. More than a hundred countries have supported the waivers at the WTO. The majority of House Democrats here in the U.S. have also signed a letter to Biden urging him to back the waivers. The letter reads, in part, “Your Administration has an incredible opportunity to reverse the damage done by the Trump Administration to our nation’s global reputation and restore America’s public health leadership on the world stage,” unquote. On Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders voiced support for the waivers during an appearance on Meet the Press. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: We should deal with this issue through the World Trade Organization of protecting the intellectual property rights of the drug companies. And I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies, when millions of lives are at stake around the world, yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so that they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries. There is something morally objectionable about rich countries being able to get that vaccine, and yet millions and billions of people in poor countries are unable to afford it. AMY GOODMAN: This all comes as Pfizer has just announced its COVID-19 vaccine brought in $3.5 billion in revenue in the first three months of 2021. Pfizer expects to make $26 billion in revenue this year. Joining us in Washington, D.C., is Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. She and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently co-wrote a piece in The Washington Post headlined “Preserving intellectual property barriers to covid-19 vaccines is morally wrong and foolish.” Explain why, Lori. And explain what needs to be done. LORI WALLACH: Good morning. The big problem is simply not enough vaccines are being produced. And that’s because a handful of vaccine-originating pharmaceutical corporations have monopoly control over the production, and they’re unwilling and have actually rejected requests from qualified manufacturers around the world to pay them to be able to make more doses. The world needs 10 to 15 billion doses to reach herd immunity, and right now all of the global production together is on track to make about 6 billion doses this year. So, at issue is a proposal that India and South Africa put forward in October at the World Trade Organization. The World Trade Organization has rules, in a thing called the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property — it’s called the TRIPS Agreement, for short — that requires all of the WTO members to guarantee the pharmaceutical companies monopoly control of production. So the proposal is simply to temporarily, for the COVID emergency, waive four parts of that agreement that cover the four specific types of intellectual property now protecting the vaccines from being made in greater volume, as well as treatments and diagnostic tests, and basically to allow countries around the world to have producers make, in each region, enough vaccine so everyone can actually get vaccinated. It’s not just the morally necessary thing to do, with millions of lives at stake; it is selfishly in the interest of the United States, because we can vaccinate everyone. And the Biden administration is doing a great job, but if there is any outbreak anywhere, it’s where vaccine-resistant, more deadly, more infectious variants of the virus can hatch. And we’ll all end up in a global lockdown if we don’t get everyone immunized in shorter order. AMY GOODMAN: So, can I ask you about the Biden administration’s links to Big Pharma? Many ties to the vaccine makers: the White House adviser Anita Dunn, co-founder of the consulting firm SKDK, which works closely with Pfizer; Biden’s domestic policy adviser Susan Rice holds up to $5 million in Johnson & Johnson; White House science adviser Eric Lander holds up to a million dollars in shares of BioNTech, which co-developed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. On Monday, I spoke to The Intercept’s Lee Fang about the ties and also about the Albright Group, that many in Biden’s inner circle come from. This is what he said. LEE FANG: The fact that the number three, four undersecretaries of the State Department were at a consulting firm, Albright Stonebridge Group, that represented Pfizer, that Anita Dunn — you know, she’s not someone who’s mentioned a lot in the media recently, but she’s one of the closest advisers to the Biden administration. She was the de facto campaign manager for his presidential campaign. Her consulting firm represents Pfizer, engages in a lot of the PR and advertising for that firm. These are serious conflicts of interest, and they deserve some scrutiny, given the fact that Pfizer is looking at this product, this vaccine, as its massive moneymaker. One estimate shows that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, under even the kind of negotiated prices that are deeply discounted this year for U.S. consumers, that will bring in something like $15 billion a year, making it one of the highest-grossing pharmaceutical products of all time. And they’re already talking about raising prices. So, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, they have so much money at stake. They’re leaning on lobbyists, they’re leaning on former Democratic aides and on potentially some of these folks who they have ties with in the White House, to push back on any effort to allow a generic vaccine. AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have Lee Fang of The Intercept. Your response to this sort of cocoon of — you know, Eisenhower talked about the military-industrial complex — the drug-industrial complex in this country, the pharmaceutical-industrial complex? Is Biden and his inner circle protecting their benefactors? LORI WALLACH: Here’s the bottom line. This decision is going to be made by President Biden. And President Biden, personally, to the camera, directly, promised America, in a conversation with Ady Barkan, heroic, challenged by ALS, healthcare activist, super activist, that he would not allow the intellectual property rights of Pharma to interfere with the world getting access to these vaccines. And throughout Congress, throughout the activist world, the Vatican, everyone is saying to Biden, “Mr. Biden, deliver on this promise.” Whomever he is surrounded by, regardless of what is truly a tsunami of Pharma lobbyists — they’re here all the time. Amy, they have a ratio where they have one lobbyist for every 20 members of Congress. It’s not just that we all are running around as citizens trying to get our members of Congress to do something; they are so thick on the ground that they’re always trying to get their way. But here’s the difference. Sixty percent of the U.S. public, as divided as we are, has said absolutely there should be a waiver. The opposition to it in the U.S. is minuscule. To some degree, if you’re not for it, it’s because you don’t know about it. It’s not rocket science. It is a first critical step to having the chance to end this pandemic as quickly as possible. So it’s on Biden to follow through regardless of who is speaking in his ear. And many people in the administration, by the way, are for the waiver. So, today in Geneva, the U.S. is going to have to take a position. And here’s what’s the worst piece of this whole thing. They’re not blocking adoption of a specific waiver. Since October, starting with Trump, the United States of America has blocked more than 100 other countries merely having a negotiation about the text of a waiver. We have stopped the negotiations. The WTO works by consensus. To launch a new negotiation, you can’t have any major country blocking it. The U.S. blocked it. The European Union and Switzerland and the U.K. snuck up behind and said, “Us, too.” So, as soon as the U.S. gets the hell out of the way — that’s all we’re saying: Stop blocking the negotiations. Because there is a text. It’s a draft. If there are problems in it, the negotiations can address specific problems. That then needs to still be adopted. The U.S. doesn’t have to be the cheerleader for it. They need to get out of the way. What is the look of the U.S.? Thanks to the Biden administration stepping up, we’re all going to — anyone who needs a vaccination and wants one will have one by the summer. And yet we are the country that is going to block a hundred-plus countries being able to do the initiative they say is necessary for them to have the same thing we already have. And the only potentially upset party is a handful of Pharma companies that got billions in our taxpayer money. They had no risk in this. They got billions in advance. And then they’re making billions, as Lee Fang said. So, in this moment, it is not just the morally right thing; it is the only thing to be done to stop the pandemic, is to get vaccines into everyone. And this waiver is part of the answer to that. AMY GOODMAN: And yet you have people like — well, one of the Democrats backed by Big Pharma who opposes signing the waiver is the senator from President Biden’s home state, Delaware, his very close ally, Chris Coons. Coons ranks 16th among congressional recipients of pharmaceutical industry lobbying money. During an address last month to the Washington think tank Center for Strategic International Studies, he echoed the drug companies’ talking points. When Senator Coons refers to IP, he means intellectual property. This is what he said. SEN. CHRIS COONS: If we were to simply open up to the world all of the IP at the core of these groundbreaking developments, I think we would then be at risk of losing the private sector investment and development that’s critical to this moment of personalized medicine, of breakthrough vaccines, of breakthrough medical diagnostics. And I think, frankly, the world would suffer as a result. So, as I said, I don’t think that waiving IP rights will suddenly enable other countries the ability to ramp up the manufacturing of complex vaccines. Instead, I am urging that the Biden administration and the private sector work together in a coordinated effort to manufacture, distribute and administer vaccines rapidly and equitably globally. … Let me close by being optimistic about our ability to invest in innovation, science and competitiveness here in the United States. … A central part of being successful in this competition is continuing with our constitutionally created, protected — protected property right of a patent, something I’ve long believed in. AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Your response, Lori Wallach? LORI WALLACH: There are some outliers, who are corporate-funded Democratic hacks, about this. There’s no doubt about it. There are a couple in the House, as well. The bottom line of all of this is the vast majority of Americans, of Democratic members of Congress, of countries around the world, don’t buy that ridiculous argument. I mean, one very important thing, separate from just the moral imperative of, you know, we’re — if this were a movie, this is where we’re facing the zombie apocalypse. Everyone is going to die, yet there is a solution, if greed can just be gotten out of the way — to just cut to the chase of what is going on here. But this sort of thinking that he has is premised on just a false claim that the mRNA, this terrific, new, newly exploited technology for the vaccine, is somehow U.S. technology. Number one, it’s not new. The original breakthrough was by a Hungarian scientist in the early ’80s. And, number two, it’s not U.S. So, the patent, that is the Pfizer drug’s key mRNA technology, is held by two Turkish people who live in Germany. That’s the BioNTech company. But also, around the world, this research has been happening. So, for instance, right now in third-stage trials, China has its own mRNA platform vaccine underway. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being made under contract for Chinese use by a Chinese firm. So, this sort of nationalistic notion of “it’s ours, and we shouldn’t share,” in the face of death and destruction — by the way, Senator Coons, destruction of the U.S. economy, that is so integrated in the global economy. If you want to just be crass about it, look at the International Chamber of Commerce study that said under a scenario where rich countries are vaccinated but developing countries aren’t, in 2021, the global losses to the global economy, $9.2 trillion — with a T, trillion — half of it in the rich countries. This is avoidable if we can get herd immunity vaccination and end the pandemic. And that is not going to happen unless more vaccine is made. Is part of where it should be made here? Absolutely. We should make as much as we can here, and we should send it elsewhere. But it will not be sufficient. The World Health Organization, scholars around the world agree. There need to be regional hubs — we can help fund them — but they need access to the technology, the recipes, the know-how to be able to make these drugs. Just yesterday, at a high-level webinar, the ambassadors from India and South Africa repeated data that’s been in lots of U.S. publications. A billion more doses could be made now, in the shorter term, in months, if this information — if the waiver happened and the information was public, because there’s unused existing capacity in Global South producers that are top-notch, already highly qualified, make very technical biologic drugs for AIDS, the HPV vaccine, etc. So, already in the short term, more can be made, but there’s going to have to be investment, in the U.S., around the world, to have more production capacity. And the first step is getting the information, which, by the way, Amy, we already paid for. One hundred and ten billion dollars globally have been invested, have been transferred to the pharmaceutical industry from governments, in the U.S., in Europe, and yet we don’t have the vaccines we need. AMY GOODMAN: And they are deploying that in lobbying Congress. And let’s not forget the media. Coons’ speech won him rare accolades from the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, which wrote it hoped President Biden, quote, “ignores the left and heeds Mr. Coons.” You have The Washington Post coming out with a piece against the waiver yesterday, an editorial. And then you have White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, who also just weighed in against the waivers, telling the Financial Times, “Going back and forth, consuming time and lawyers in a legal argument about waivers — that is not the endgame. People are dying around the world and we have to get vaccines into their arms in the fastest and most efficient way possible.” Lori, your response? LORI WALLACH: I was on a call last week with Dr. Fauci. And actually, he says that, and he says that after “Of course we need to do a waiver, but we can’t waste all our time fighting over the waiver.” There are so many other steps. Yes, we need to share the know-how, and then we need to get the investment, and then we need to get the different centers around the world going, and then we have to get the companies to actually share the know-how. So, there has been an effort, for a month, by the pharmaceutical industry to make it seem like Fauci is against the waiver. And actually, I think I can hear in my head the very context in which that statement was made, in the context of what he’s said over and over, which is, “Of course, we need to share the know-how and the technology and get vaccines made.” AMY GOODMAN: And so, what is your understanding, Lori, of the battle that is going on within the Biden administration right now over these waivers? And again, this is the critical moment, because the World Trade Organization is having these two days of meetings, today and tomorrow, in Geneva. LORI WALLACH: So, there are some interests that are against the waiver. There are two camps. There is the Pharma corporate camp. You can see that in the Trademark and Patent Office in the Commerce Department. And then you have the camp of “We should focus on getting more shots into people. Let’s focus on our domestic vaccination rollout,” as if making sure that a variant that undoes our domestic vaccine rollout — if there is a vaccine-resistant strain that emerges because there are raging outbreaks anywhere, you can vaccinate 70% of the American public, as the president said yesterday, and we’re still locked down again, because a vaccine-resistant variant can brew anyplace there are major outbreaks going on. So it’s very shortsighted, that “us first, them later.” On the other hand, there are several key agencies, many people in the White House, who are for the waiver and want to get past the waiver, in the sense that that is a key step, but that is certainly not going to translate, like that, into having more vaccines. There’s so much more work that has to happen, which is why it is so critical that today the United States stop blocking a hundred-plus countries that simply want to have a negotiation about what they deem as critically important for their people to be able to have what we have — access to the vaccine that can save their lives — but also to contribute to the global fight to crush this pandemic. We do not want this to be an endemic problem that is raging around the world, much less in the current apartheid form of rich countries getting vaccinated and poor countries being left to die, but also, in addition to the moral implication of that, to not be able to help in what has got to be a global effort of a race against vaccines versus variants. And if that does not — if humans don’t win that, then there is no place — not here, not with our vaccines — that will be safe. AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, we want to thank you for being with us, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, wrote the recent Washington Post op-ed with the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, “Preserving intellectual property barriers to covid-19 vaccines is morally wrong and foolish.” We will link to it at democracynow.org. When we come back, we go to the Global South, to Manila, to the Philippines, to talk with Walden Bello, co-founder of Focus on the Global South, about the pandemic in the Philippines and U.S.-China relations. Stay with us. This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
Politics & Elections India and Brazil’s COVID Crises Show We Must End the Fiction of Borders Human Rights 125 Democrats Say Military Aid to Israel Shouldn’t Depend on Human Rights Record Prisons & Policing University of California Pushes to Militarize and Expand Its Police Force Politics & Elections Sanders Accuses McConnell of Hypocrisy and Corruption in Scathing KY Speech Immigration DHS Touts Reuniting Just 4 of More Than 1,000 Separated Migrant Families Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends A new poll says that most of us are optimistic about the country’s future (with a margin of error of plus or minus eleventy billion, of course). According to ABC News/Ipsos, a full 64 percent of the country believes we are on the right track. It makes sense: The president of the United States is no longer screaming 20 hours a day about whatever happens to pass his screen. New COVID-19 infections are down by almost a quarter, and the number of COVID deaths has also dropped. Close to half the country has been at least partially vaccinated. The weather is turning, and opportunities for outdoor activities are expanding. Yet the home front news is far from all good, polls notwithstanding. Scientists and public health experts are rapidly concluding that achieving herd immunity in the U.S. is probably out of reach now, due in no small degree to vaccine hesitancy on the part of millions of Republicans and evangelical Christians, who somehow believe they are assisting Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign by shunning the needle. Many of the people gumming up herd immunity are doing so out of ideological purity. The irony here is that Trump and members of his administration spent last winter arguing that we should let the virus run wild. Sure, it might kill millions, they said, but we’ll nail herd immunity at the end of that road of bones. Once those wreckers were dispossessed of power, it was hoped the new administration might be able to convince a preponderance of the people that the vaccines are safe, effective and devoid of politics. To date, that has not happened to a sufficient degree. “Instead,” reports The New York Times, “[medical experts] are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.” Not great, entirely galling, but better than where we were… yet there is an illusory element to all this new data and the happy feelings they bring. This hard-won moment is unbelievably fragile, and for one simple reason: Borders are a legal fiction that COVID-19 and its variants could not give less of a damn about, and COVID is still very much on the move. India: “After a devastating week of soaring infections, India reported more than 400,000 new cases Saturday, a global record. Experts believe that number will climb even higher in the coming days, an unimaginable burden for a health system already under siege with hospitals issuing pleas for oxygen,” reports The Washington Post. “The powerful resurgence of infections in India — a country where cases had ebbed just months earlier — is also a reminder that the coronavirus is far from controlled around the world, even with vaccination rates climbing in many countries.” South America: “At least 100,000 Brazilians have died in the last 36 days and 100,000 more are expected to lose their lives before July,” reports the Guardian. “Last week South America, home to 5.5% of the world’s population, suffered nearly 32 percent of all reported Covid deaths. ‘What’s happening is a catastrophe,’ Argentina’s health minister, Carla Vizzotti, admitted as her country’s Covid restrictions were extended until late May.” The fictions of borders and “rugged individualism” must be dismissed out of hand, for we are all in this together. The U.S. is rushing aid to India, and the Biden administration claims that it is doing everything it can to help that nation weather the storm, though clearly more could be done. Brazil’s pleas for help, by contrast, are being generally ignored by the world at present. Jair Bolsonaro is not the one being punished here; the people of Brazil are suffering. Moreover, if COVID’s history is any guide, what is happening in those countries will not stay in those countries. When it arrives here — when, not if — this new wave of COVID and its variants will find a half-vaccinated nation in a pretty good mood, and that good mood will sour like milk left out in the sun. A country still fighting over masks, a country that prioritizes capitalism’s profits over its own people, is not ready to confront any number of the worst-case scenarios that lurk at the business end of this threat. That must change, immediately. “There is no such thing as the State,” notes poet W.H. Auden in September 1, 1939, “and no one exists alone.” The fiction of borders, of “rugged individualism,” must be dismissed out of hand, for we are all in this together. If the COVID crisis is not immediately treated by the U.S. and the world as a global crisis, if a global solution is not collectively achieved, we will eventually arrive at a global calamity so bleak, even the poets will be wordstruck. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends Environment & Health Capitalism and Racism Are Enemies of an Effective Vaccine Plan War & Peace In Colombia, Hundreds of Ex-Rebels Have Been Murdered Despite Peace Agreement Economy & Labor On May Day, Gig Workers Are Organizing an Intersectional Movement Prisons & Policing My Child Is Incarcerated. One Second in This Unjust System Is Too Much. Prisons & Policing Drug Raids Killed Andrew Brown Jr., Breonna Taylor. Advocates Say: Enough. Pandemics don’t spread evenly. The spread depends on environmental conditions such as temperature and airflow, population density and size, and, as it turns out, privilege. Brutal capitalism has driven the disproportionate impact of COVID on marginalized communities, and it is now driving inequities in vaccine distribution. Not surprisingly, the contours of COVID’s impacts have reflected pre-existing societal disparities — which are often shaped along gender, race and class lines. These disparities determine not only how a virus spreads, but also the impacts that the virus has on the individual communities that are exposed. It has been widely reported that Black communities have been impacted disproportionately by COVID, experiencing higher rates of hospitalization, infections and mortality; these trends have continued on into the third wave of COVID, and have inspired hundreds of cities and counties, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, to declare racism to be a public health threat. Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities have less access to health care and testing, access to information, economic stability and work conditions, all of which contributes to the virus’s disparate impact. In addition to race, another significant social determinant of health is class. Essential workers and those who do not have the privilege of working from home are disproportionately impacted by COVID, as they are much more likely to be exposed to the virus. Black workers and most of the low-waged frontline workers have less access to sick leave and are less likely to have health insurance coverage, contributing to the disproportionate impacts of COVID. “People in lower income neighborhoods are more likely to have COVID-19 and are at greater risk of COVID-19 deaths as compared to people in higher income neighborhoods,” Gregorio Millett, former scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and author of the paper “Assessing differential impacts of COVID-19 on black communities,” told Truthout. Lisa Dubay, co-author of the Urban Institute research report titled, “How Risk of Exposure to the Coronavirus at Work Varies by Race and Ethnicity and How to Protect the Health and Well-Being of Workers and Their Families,” noted, “We thought it was really important to look at the intersection of race and exposure, because what we know is that the U.S. has a long history of structural racism and interpersonal racism…. That has resulted in long-standing occupational segregation that privileges whites and people with higher education.” Dubay noted that the lack of sick leave, living wages and health insurance drove COVID’s spread among low-wage workers, disproportionately workers of color. Another population that has been disproportionately impacted by COVID is incarcerated people. According to research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, incarcerated people are infected by the coronavirus at a rate more than five times higher than the country’s overall rate. And as of April 16, more than 661,000 incarcerated people and staff have been infected. Amber Casey of the Washington State Department of Public Health told Truthout, “When those folks go back into their communities, which are often heavily policed communities, Black and Brown communities — the same communities that are heavily affected by COVID due to other factors — those communities are more likely to be exposed and it does really keep a reservoir of COVID circulating.” Black and Brown communities in the U.S. are less likely to get access to vaccines for a number of reasons, including internet access for appointments, proximity to vaccine centers and informational barriers. Casey also works closely with folks experiencing homelessness and people who are using drugs — both of which are populations that have been impacted disproportionately by COVID. She points to how a sharp increase in drug overdoses has accompanied the pandemic in these communities. Casey and her department are currently trying to get as many vaccines as possible out to people experiencing homelessness and who are currently using drugs. Indeed, now that the vaccine is quickly rolling out, an opportunity has emerged to remedy the inequities cemented by COVID — but instead, vaccine distribution has proven to be yet another area where disparities are made plain. The Biden administration has been fairly successful at making vaccine shots available — however, when it comes to equitable distribution, it’s a different story. Research has shown that Black and Brown communities in the U.S., for example, are less likely to get access to vaccines for a number of reasons, including internet access for appointments, proximity to vaccine centers or clinics, and informational barriers. As Truthout has covered in depth, similar patterns in vaccine equity also exist on the global scale. According to Krishna Udayakumar, the founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, just four regions — the U.S., China, India and Europe — account for 70 percent of all vaccinated people in the world. And this is not an issue of supply — it’s actually projected that by this summer, the U.S. will have an enormous oversupply of the vaccine. The issue is equitable distribution. “High-income countries like Australia, Japan, the U.S. and Europe, for example, pre-purchased a lot of the vaccine before it was even manufactured,” Merith Basey of Free the Vaccine told Truthout. “That purchasing power has led to this concept of hoarding, which has left a lot of poorer countries — or even middle-income countries — behind.” Free the Vaccine is a collective of volunteers from 29 countries campaigning for equitable global access to COVID vaccines. Without affordable access for everyone, they believe that the vaccine cannot do its intended job, and that since taxpayers have largely funded the development of these vaccines, they should be available for free to everyone. According to Basey, one of the largest problems is that high-income countries are not sharing the intellectual property around the vaccines. “There’s more than enough to go around. The idea is to have a much more people-centered system rather than a profit-centered system.” “There are [a lot of] countries around the world [that] could manufacture the vaccine locally and work to treat their own populations,” Basey said. “But because of the sort of capitalist frame of the current biomedical R&D system, it means that sharing isn’t happening.” The United States has fully vaccinated roughly 25 percent of its population, but poorer countries like Brazil and Mexico, for example — which have some of the highest rates of COVID cases and deaths, have both vaccinated less than 10 percent of their populations. “The world has a scarcity mindset right now,” Basey said. “But we have the recipe, we just need to share it — there’s more than enough to go around. The idea is to have a much more people-centered system rather than a profit-centered system.” Countries like South Africa and India have led efforts to temporarily suspend patents on COVID vaccines, but these efforts have been blocked by the United States and other wealthy nations at the World Trade Organization. This comes as India is experiencing a massive wave of COVID cases and deaths, recording 315,000 new cases in just a single day, the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic. As wealthy nations like the United States continue to prioritize shareholder profit over people’s lives, we’re also seeing how global politics and imperialism has penetrated the rollout of COVID vaccines. For example, it has been reported that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer made demands to Latin American countries to put up sovereign assets, such as embassy buildings and military bases, as a guarantee against the cost of future legal cases as part of their COVID-19 vaccine negotiations. Groups like Free the Vaccine are doing important work to ensure global equity and access, but they are up against a corporate, global system that is unwilling and unlikely to make any substantial changes to a profit-focused agenda. As we continue to see the stark disparities in how COVID impacts marginalized communities here in the U.S., as well as inequities in response to COVID globally, it’s become increasingly clear that our current global capitalist economic system is not prepared to deal with major crises adequately. Moments of acute crisis such as this, as devastating as they are, can make space for new conversations and open up opportunities for change. As COVID lays bare the major structural problems in our current social, political and economic systems, we are seeing communities across the country and across the globe rise up to demand substantial reforms, and in many cases, a complete overhaul of entire structures. With the very real possibility of another pandemic on the horizon, it’s important that we fully understand the root causes that drive the inequities in our society so that we can avoid replicating these harmful and deadly patterns in the future. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends Environment & Health Capitalism and Racism Are Enemies of an Effective Vaccine Plan War & Peace In Colombia, Hundreds of Ex-Rebels Have Been Murdered Despite Peace Agreement Economy & Labor On May Day, Gig Workers Are Organizing an Intersectional Movement Prisons & Policing My Child Is Incarcerated. One Second in This Unjust System Is Too Much. Prisons & Policing Drug Raids Killed Andrew Brown Jr., Breonna Taylor. Advocates Say: Enough. After more than a year of economic, social and spiritual upheaval, Americans are beginning to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel. While infection rates are not yet stable in the U.S., hospitalizations remain on the decline, and the vaccine is now available to everyone. A return to something close to normal life feels tantalizingly close. For the one in every seven tenants in the U.S. currently behind on rent, however, the end of COVID could mean eviction. Marginalized tenants are especially at risk — one in five Black tenants, Latino tenants and tenants with children currently owe back rent. “We have projections of 500,000 people living on the streets of L.A. if nothing is done to curb these evictions,” Trinidad Ruiz of the L.A. Tenants Union says — a catastrophic increase from the estimated 40,000 people currently without housing in the Los Angeles area. Without assistance, over 10 million people nationwide could find themselves without housing when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium ends on June 30. In an attempt to avert this crisis, the federal government has allocated a total of over $45 billion in renter’s assistance for states, counties and municipalities to distribute. This amount, while a far cry from the estimated $70 billion needed to provide aid to every tenant in need of help, could go a long way toward restoring housing security to millions of Americans. Yet, despite the tremendous need for rental assistance, these funds languish in state treasuries while more and more tenants fall behind on their rent. Why? Infrastructure Troubles According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), much of the failure to distribute available funds results from city, state and municipal lack of experience with building and coordinating massive aid distribution programs. Inefficiencies and structural issues lead to massive delays in processing and disbursal. According to a February Avail poll, 54.7 percent of landlords and 72.7 percent of tenants who have applied for relief have yet to receive assistance. 72.7 percent of tenants who have applied for relief have yet to receive assistance. In an attempt to create more efficient distribution programs, 55 percent of state and local agencies used the services of an NGO. Unfortunately, these NGOs are sometimes just as inefficient as amateurish government programs. Washington, D.C.’s government, for example, partnered with Deloitte, a company that provides audit, consulting, tax and advisory services, to coordinate rent relief; yet Greg Afinogenov of the anti-eviction group Stomp Out Slumlords reports the same bottleneck issue. “People around the city that we’re in contact with have been trying to apply for this money, and many of them have incredible trouble getting it,” Afinogenov told Truthout. Other states, like Ohio, partnered with nonprofit organizations which, according to the NLIHC, typically outperform both in-house and NGO solutions. Nonetheless, nonprofits are also struggling to ramp up existing programs to meet demand for housing relief. “These groups normally deal with maybe 5 percent of the money they’re dealing with now,” Bill Faith of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) told Truthout. “So they went from going 15 mph to going 90 mph in no time.” Even when relief programs function more or less as intended, many tenants remain unaware of the existence of rent relief programs. According to the Avail poll, 48.1 percent of landlords and 68.8 percent of tenants are unaware of available rental assistance programs. Even those who know about the programs show hesitation to apply — 62.7 percent of landlords do not believe they are eligible for relief. Byzantine Bureaucracy Rent relief cannot help those already evicted from their apartments. Application processes also place significant burden on tenants, who must navigate a dizzying maze of bureaucratic requirements in order to obtain relief. “The application is not user-friendly,” Ruiz said. “It takes 2 to 3 hours per tenant, and this is [assuming] knowledge of how the web works, how to upload a photograph, and how to scan documents.” Lack of technological knowledge hits especially hard because of COVID restrictions. “You’ve got to scan [the documents] in to send them in because people are still trying to minimize face-to-face contact,” Faith said. Recently relaxed COVID restrictions mean Ohio nonprofits are now able to hold open hours. Activists can thereby accept and scan documents directly, which helps get applications out the door and into processing. Adversarial Landlords The required documents themselves can be hard to come by, however, especially for people in unusual circumstances. Rose Lenehan of the Autonomous Tenants Union Network (ATUN) describes a client from Oaxaca, Mexico, who speaks very little English and owes $10,000 of back rent. The tenant lost almost all work opportunities due to COVID, but because he works in the informal economy, he has no way to prove lost hours and apply for aid. While organizations like ATUN can sometimes help tenants like this put together an application, the situation is virtually impossible for someone without legal knowledge or whose English is limited. To make things worse, activists across the country report that a substantial number of landlords prefer to move immediately to eviction rather than pursue or accept rent relief funding. Although it may seem counterintuitive for landlords to oppose a process that could potentially result in a large payday, their reluctance often stems from the aforementioned long wait times for disbursement and confusion about the programs themselves. “When you can talk to some of the owners,” Faith says, “they may not even know about the emergency rental assistance program, or … they don’t know whether [the assistance] will come.” In some states, stonewalling by landlords renders tenants ineligible for rental assistance. Although the federal program specifies that tenants may receive rent relief even without landlord cooperation, states like Kentucky have adopted tighter requirements that prohibit the disbursal of funds if landlords refuse to participate. One-fifth of all rent relief applications in the Bluegrass State are rejected due to landlord noncooperation. Activists across the country report that a substantial number of landlords prefer to move immediately to eviction rather than pursue or accept rent relief funding. Activists across the country report that a substantial number of landlords prefer to move immediately to eviction rather than pursue or accept rent relief funding. Some landlords actively use their tenants’ housing insecurity to gain economic advantage. Afinogenov reports that many D.C. landlords refuse to fill out necessary rent relief paperwork unless the tenants first agree to move out. Lenehan describes “cash for keys” operations in which landlords offer to forgive back rent if tenants move out of rent-controlled housing. Once they leave, landlords turn around and rent the same apartment for a far higher price. Meanwhile, their old tenants find they can no longer afford to live in the city. Low-income, undocumented, and tenants whose second language is English are especially at risk of these kinds of predatory practices. Nevertheless, They Evicted Rent relief cannot help those already evicted from their apartments. “Possession is everything,” Ruiz explains as he describes Los Angeles landlords who illegally lock tenants out of their apartments, often with the backing of the police. Landlords need not resort to physically removing possessions to convince tenants to leave their homes. According to Eviction Lab, many states allow landlords to file for eviction, but not to actually go through with the process until the moratorium expires. Nevertheless, even the threat of eviction often frightens tenants enough that they decide to vacate rather than risk a black mark on their rental record.Despite the federal moratorium, illegal evictions never really stopped. “It’s not a [real] moratorium,” Elena Popp, lawyer and executive director of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Eviction Defense Network, told Truthout. “If you had a moratorium, the sheriff would just stop evicting people.” Instead, landlords and local governments alike continue to take actions that put families onto the street despite federal and local safeguards. Chaotic, last-minute policy changes have also created legal loopholes that led to tenant evictions. In Los Angeles, tenants must re-file for eviction protection each time the CDC extends the deadline. On March 29, the CDC extended the moratorium expiration date from April 1 to June 30, which left tenants and activists three short days to file for extensions. While the Eviction Defense Network managed to protect all but one client from eviction, Lenehan knows of at least 20 tenants evicted as a result of this avoidable legal chaos. What Must Be Done As things stand currently, the U.S. has a little over two months to sort out this chaos if it wants to avoid a housing crisis of proportions not seen since the Great Depression. But the situation is far from hopeless. “[People are] one paycheck away from having a crisis. Until we address that, we’re just waiting for the next crisis to create another wave of evictions in this country.” According to Emily Benfer, chair of the American Bar Association’s COVID-19 Task Force Committee on Eviction, state and local governments should begin by halting all stages of the eviction process. This simple step would allow families to stay housed while awaiting rent relief. Improvements to distribution programs can also go a long way. While most state and local governments place the primary onus on tenants to start the rental relief application process, Baltimore’s program now contacts landlords directly and adds up the total rent debt for each complex. If the landlord agrees to discount 20 percent of back rent owed and cease eviction attempts, the program pays the landlords a lump sum to cover all rent debt. This “bundling” approach requires far fewer total applications, which cuts down on total paperwork. Focusing on landlords also places the bureaucratic burden on the party better able to navigate legal paperwork. While this solution may seem counterintuitive given widespread landlord resistance to rent relief programs, activists often find that approaching landlords directly can clear up misconceptions and encourage cooperation. Nonprofit groups in Ohio now take a similar approach, with good results. “Sometimes if you work with the landlords as one way to do outreach, they can help,” Faith said. Activists across the country are organizing to help tenants understand their rights and navigate the onerous legal process necessary to obtain relief. Thanks to the Eviction Defense Network, Los Angeles courts must include a flyer in the packet of eviction paperwork sent to tenants in danger of losing their homes. This flyer helps tenants understand their options and tells them what organizations they can contact for help. COHHIO sets up tables outside the convention center, where eviction proceedings currently take place, to help people process eviction paperwork on the spot. The L.A. Tenants Union is pushing hard to build more robust networks of tenants to better resist eviction attempts. Organizer Colin Stevens told Truthout that the group’s membership increased fivefold since the beginning of pandemic shelter-in-place orders. The group hopes to organize up to 62 percent of tenants by 2028, when the Olympics will come to town and massive homeless sweeps will likely occur as they did during the Olympics in 1984. “We are the majority,” Ruiz said. “It’s time to flex that political power.” Ultimately, however, the country’s housing problem extends far beyond the COVID crisis. Even before the pandemic, tenants struggled to keep up with rental costs, which increased at over three times the rate of inflation in 2019. Vacancy rates are at their lowest point in over 30 years, which means landlords can increase rent with impunity. While 2019 saw the construction of many new apartment buildings, only 12 percent of those new units rented for below $1,050, further squeezing supply for the poorest tenants. It is little wonder that over 70 percent of households earning less than $15,000 per year pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. These worrisome trends were already accelerating before COVID, and the increasing wealth inequality caused by the pandemic will likely only make things worse. “The one thing that this whole situation brings to light is how poorly we are, as a country, at meeting the basic housing needs of our citizens,” Faith laments. “There’s no buffer. Everyone’s on the edge. [People are] one paycheck away from having a crisis. Until we address that, we’re just waiting for the next crisis to create another wave of evictions in this country.” Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.