Photography by Steve Kong.
Dr. Oni Blackstock, Health Justice’s founder and Executive Director, recently participated in a protest outside Pfizer’s NYC headquarters to bring attention to and increase support for the critically important issue of global COVID-19 vaccine equity. Below she shares her remarks from this important protest:
I’m primary care and HIV doctor. I’m also a public health doctor—up until last year I oversaw NYC’s response to the HIV epidemic as an Assistant Commissioner at the NYC Health Dept.
These roles have allowed me to care for individuals, communities and an entire city—and this vantage point has shown me—what the pandemic has made abundantly clear—and that is that we truly are interconnected.
Yet, despite our undeniable connection to one another, all members of our society do not have equitable access to high quality healthcare or life-saving public health interventions. When this pandemic began, we immediately saw Black and brown communities disproportionately affected. And when it came to accessing the COVID-19 vaccine, the story was no different. This was due in large part to a lack of political will to ensure that the communities most burdened had equitable access to the vaccine.
And we’re seeing this same story play out globally.
Wealthy countries—countries that have created their wealth from the colonization and plunder of the most burdened countries—have hoarded vaccines instead of helping to ensure that less financially resourced countries have access to it.
My father was born in Jamaica and I have family who still live there. Just a stone’s throw from the US and with a population of 3 million people, Jamaica has only received 140,000 doses of vaccine. That’s it. That’s all the country has received. Meanwhile hundreds of millions of vaccines have gone to a dozen or so wealthy nations.
This is a political choice. Global vaccine inequity does not have to be an inevitability.
As an HIV doctor, I’m familiar with PEPFAR—the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—it was an initiative that invested billions of dollars to make life-saving HIV treatment accessible to millions of people throughout the world. PEPFAR is a prime example of the ways in which the US government can contribute meaningfully and positively to global health if there is the will to do so.
While many of the US government policies have often either created or helped to sustain the socioeconomic conditions in the Global South, similar to PEPFAR, the US government now has the opportunity to start righting its wrongs and to do the morally correct thing to end this public health emergency.
We call on President Biden to use his powers to incentive vaccine makers such as Pfizer to share their know-how with other vaccine makers around the world especially in the Global South. We call on Pfizer and other vaccine makers themselves to share their vaccine-making knowledge. We also call on the President to support the TRIPS waiver which would allow generic and other producers in the Global South to manufacture life-saving COVID-19 vaccines.
The COVID19 pandemic will not be over here unless it’s over for everyone. Not ensuring global vaccine equity means more precious lives lost; it means prolonging the pandemic; it means potentially creating an even more dire situation with the emergence of more variants that could undermine existing vaccines’ efficacy.