Millions of Lives Are at Stake

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

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.

— source | May 05, 2021

Nullius in verba

The Lancet condemns American capitalism

On Thursday, the British medical journal The Lancet published its official report, three years in the making, on the Trump administration’s health care record.

The report is, appropriately, dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lancet found the Trump administration directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people during the pandemic, and that over 200,000 people would still be alive if the United States had a COVID-19 mortality rate similar to that of other developed countries.

It argues that the nearly half million dead in the US from COVID-19 should be added to the toll of the “missing Americans” whose deaths were attributable to the rise of social inequality over the course of the past four decades. The Lancet report presents both the pandemic and the Trump administration as the outcome of deeper and more profound tendencies in American society.

“An emboldened plutocracy, under the guise of deregulation and austerity, has augmented its wealth and power by re-regulating markets to their advantage and adjusting government budgets for their own gain,” wrote The Lancet. “Under this type of governance, wealthy firms and families receive generous government transfers” while “job opportunities have disappeared.”

The Lancet concludes, “The disturbing truth is that many of President Trump’s policies do not represent a radical break with the past but have merely accelerated the decades-long trend of lagging life expectancy that reflects deep and longstanding flaws in US economic, health, and social policy. These flaws are not only evident in faltering longevity … but also in the widening gaps in mortality across social class.”

“Americans’ health was deteriorating even as our economy was booming,” says Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, one of the committee’s co-chairs. “This unprecedented decoupling of health from national wealth signals that our society is sick. While the wealthy have thrived, most Americans have lost ground, both economically and medically.”

— source | 11 Feb 2021

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Exposure to high heat neutralizes SARS-CoV-2

Researchers from Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University have designed an experimental system that shows exposure of SARS-CoV-2 to a very high temperature, even if applied for less than a second, can be sufficient to neutralize the virus so that it can no longer infect another human host. Their process works by heating one section of a stainless-steel tube, through which the coronavirus-containing solution is run, to a high temperature and then cooling the section immediately afterward. if the solution is heated to nearly 72 degrees Celsius for about half a second, it can reduce the virus titer, or quantity of the virus in the solution, by 100,000 times which is sufficient to neutralize the virus and prevent transmission.

— source Texas A&M University | Apr 27, 2021

[this is in experimental stage. from this, they have to develop equipment that can be usable practically. just putting some heat does not kill virus. scientifically proven equipment or process have to be built based on this finding.]

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Pandemic Aid for Undocumented People

New York’s “Excluded Workers” Demand First U.S. Fund to Secure Pandemic Aid for Undocumented People

More than a year into the pandemic and the economic crisis it generated, many workers continue to be excluded from receiving any government relief. These excluded workers include undocumented people — many of them in essential services — and people recently released from prison. Hundreds of essential workers across New York are leading marches and hunger strikes to demand lawmakers support a $3.5 billion fund that would be the first of its kind in the United States to provide pandemic relief funding to those excluded from the current system. Governor Andrew Cuomo is now in final negotiations with legislators on a budget bill that was due last month, which could issue payments to up to 275,000 people. “I truly believe that this is the job of government,” says Marcela Mitaynes, a New York assemblymember who is joining excluded workers in their hunger strike to push for pandemic relief and has called for a wealth tax to fund it. “We’re supposed to provide for our people. And this is a moment where we need to step up.”

— source | 2021/4/6

Hospitals Sued Patients over Medical Debt

We look at pandemic profiteering in the medical system as a new report by Kaiser Health News reveals some of the nation’s richest hospitals recorded hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus over the past year after accepting federal healthcare bailout grants. This comes as hospitals in New York have sued thousands of patients during the pandemic, and Northwell — which is run by a close ally of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — has faced intense criticism for practices like billing patients at its Lenox Hill Hospital over $3,000 for COVID tests — more than 30 times the typical cost. “There’s a lot of talk in our healthcare system about putting patients first, … but this is not doing that,” says Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives at the Community Service Society of New York and co-founder of the Health Care for All New York campaign. “Suing patients ruins their lives.” We also discuss how Biden’s CARES Act made 3.7 million more people eligible for the Affordable Care Act’s premium subsidies.

Here in New York, the state’s largest nonprofit health system, Northwell, received $1.2 billion in federal funds from the CARES Act. But Northwell, which is run by a close ally of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, has faced intense criticism for suing over 2,500 patients last year for failing to pay their medical bills. It only stopped suing for medical debt after a report by the Community Service Society exposed the practice. Meanwhile, The New York Times recently revealed one of Northwell’s facilities, the Lenox Hill Hospital, billed over $3,000 for COVID tests — more than 30 times the typical cost.

— source | 2021/4/6

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Mercy for vaccines

As the UK’s vaccination programme was “knocked off course” due to a delay in receiving five million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India, a far more chilling reality was unfolding: about a third of all humanity, living in the poorest countries, found out that they will get almost no coronavirus vaccines in the near future because of India’s urgent need to vaccinate its own massive population.

It’s somewhat rich for figures in Britain to accuse India of vaccine nationalism. That the UK, which has vaccinated nearly 50% of its adults with at least one dose, should demand vaccines from India, which has only vaccinated 3% of its people so far, is immoral. That the UK has already received several million doses from India, alongside other rich countries such as Saudi Arabia and Canada, is a travesty.

The billions of AstraZeneca doses being produced by the Serum Institute in India are not for rich countries – and, in fact, not even for India alone: they are | Achal Prabhala and Leena Menghaney | Fri 2 Apr 2021

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Fight over COVID-19 Vaccine Patent Rights

What we’re seeing now is a failure that was foretold over a year ago, when vaccine manufacturing and vaccine research just began. What’s happening today is a set of cumulative failures over the last year, many of which were predicted, many of which could have been avoided.

Of the vaccines available in the world, there are vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna which are simply not available outside rich countries. AstraZeneca is one of the few companies that has made its vaccine a little more available, primarily by signing an agreement with the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, who happens to be located in India. Now, the problem is that what they signed over were the rights to supply vaccines to 92 poor countries around the world, including India, essentially to one vaccine manufacturer, with very, very few backups. What that’s meant is that you have these 92 countries that are dependent upon one company that operates on Indian soil.

Now, by its share of population, India should get about 35% of these vaccines. What’s happening instead is that the Indian government is acquiring far more of those vaccines than 35%. At this moment and for the next couple of months, it’s going to be closer to 100%. The problem with this is that these are not India’s

— source | Apr 05, 2021

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Dead Teachers Can’t Teach

Tennessee lawmakers are threatening to defund schools that refuse to return to in-person learning. The pressure campaign is aimed squarely at Memphis and Nashville, which serve mostly Black and Latino students and have been online-only since spring 2020.

The squeeze on these two school districts comes as teachers in Chicago rebuffed directives from the mayor and board of education to reopen their doors on Monday. “We will continue to work remote so we can keep ourselves, our families and our school communities safe. If we are locked out by the mayor and CPS [Chicago Public Schools], then the choice to strike is theirs, not ours,” the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) announced.

Despite the school district’s attempts to label the labor action an “illegal

— source | Luis Feliz Leon | Jan 29, 2021

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U.S. Still Blocking the Push to Loosen WTO Rules on Vaccine Patents

As the pandemic’s death toll nears 2.5 million, stringent rules around intellectual property rights could be preventing much of the world from obtaining COVID-19 vaccines. Over 45 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the United Nations, while 130 other countries have not received any vaccines at all, leading to what some describe as “vaccine apartheid.” At the World Trade Organization, South Africa and India are leading a push by over 100 nations to waive intellectual property rules that give pharmaceutical companies monopolistic control over vaccines they develop, even when the vaccines are developed largely with public funds, in order to speed up distribution of the life-saving medicines — but the U.S. has been a key impediment to loosening those restrictions. “The proposal really seeks to ensure that everyone has access,” says Mustaqeem De Gama, a member of the South African WTO delegation. “We should enable more producers to produce, to scale, and to ensure that all of us are safe in the shortest possible time.” We also speak with Congressmember Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, who supports the WTO waiver. “We know that these intellectual property rights really do put profit over people all over the world,” she says.

— source | Feb 25, 2021

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Black People Face Higher COVID Infections & Deaths

As the U.S. vaccine rollout continues to expand, health justice advocates worry about a racial gap in vaccinations. Black communities have been hard hit by the pandemic, but rates of vaccination in communities of color lag behind largely white communities across the country. Dr. Oni Blackstock, a primary care and HIV physician, argues that age cutoffs should be lowered or removed for Black people in order to speed up inoculations, noting that Black Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white Americans and also dying at rates similar to those of white Americans who are 10 years older. “These fixed-age cutoffs that most states implemented did not take into account structural racism’s toll on Black life expectancy in addition to the impact of the pandemic on the life expectancy of Black people in this country,” says Dr. Blackstock.

The U.S. vaccination campaign is getting a new boost today as the first Johnson & Johnson vaccines are administered. According to the White House, nearly 4 million doses of the single-shot vaccine will be initially given out. Johnson & Johnson is the third COVID vaccine to receive FDA emergency approval.

Nearly 20% of adults in the United States have received at least one vaccine shot so far. But there is a wide racial gap in who’s being vaccinated. While Black and Latinx communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic, rates of vaccination in communities of color are lower than largely white communities across the country. Data from the Centers for Disease Control shows just 5% of vaccines have gone to Black Americans, only 11% to Latinx recipients.

This comes as life expectancy in the United States fell by a full year during the first six months of 2020, largely due to the pandemic. It’s the largest drop since World War II. Life expectancy for Black Americans dropped by almost three years, and 1.9 years for Latinx people.

Some doctors are now calling on the CDC and states to give greater priority to communities of color in the vaccine rollout. Doctors Oni and Uché Blackstock are pushing to lower age cutoffs for African Americans. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, they write, “Black Americans are [not only] twice as likely to die of covid-19 as White Americans but also dying at rates similar to those of White Americans who are 10 years older.” They go on: “Moreover, racial [inequities] are most striking at younger ages; for example, Black people ages 45 to 54 are seven times more likely to die of covid-19 than similarly aged White Americans.”

— source | Mar 02, 2021


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