Amidst a surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths fueled by the COVID-19 Delta variant, AIDS activists, human rights organizations, health workers, and intersectional social justice activists gathered at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza in Manhattan on July 14 for a protest march to the German Consulate and Pfizer World Headquarters.
Protestors demand that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and pharma giant Pfizer lift the patent restrictions for the COVID-19 vaccine and make it available to developing countries, which have only received 0.3% of COVID-19 vaccines. In comparison, more than 82% of the vaccine has gone to wealthy countries, according to a report published by the United Nations in May.
While the Biden Administration and numerous European countries like Greece and Italy back patent waivers for COVID-19 shots for the global good, German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes lifting the patent shield, citing “severe complications” for the production of vaccines.
“If a patent is given away and the quality is no longer controlled, I see more risk than chance,” Merkel, who is serving her last term as German chancellor, said in May when asked about the U.S. proposal to waive patent protection.
The protestors, who staged a die-in outside Pfizer World Headquarters hope that President Biden will put pressure on Merkel during her visit with him in Washington D.C. on July 15.
Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health Gap, said that pharmaceutical companies and world leaders are turning their backs on billions of people worldwide who are in desperate need of the life-saving vaccine.
“This is unacceptable, and it’s preventable,” Russell said. “An mRNA vaccine can be made cheaply around the world. But Pfizer’s intellectual property rights monopolies are killing people around the world. It’s up to the Biden administration to keep the promise that he ran on to put the lives of everyone as a priority. Right now, people are dying without Biden’s actions and bowing down before the greed of Pfizer.”
Councilmember and candidate for NYC comptroller Brad Lander, who joined the protestors in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, said it was not only a moral requirement but also a self-protective and practical requirement to demand that one of the wealthiest nations lift the waiver.
“We are consigning people all around the world to die because of what country they live in,” Lander said and expressed that Merkel’s voice matters enormously, citing her handling of the refugee crisis in 2015 and opening up the borders to migrants from Africa.
“This is a critical moment for her [Merkel] to take that leadership again,” Lander said.
While blocking 42nd Street and later the intersection of 1st Avenue and 42nd Street (no arrests were made), activists held up banners demanding an end to the obstruction of COVID-19 vaccine production.
The coalition of activist groups call on pharmaceutical companies and wealthy countries led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel stop blocking efforts to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
They fear that Merkel is undercutting efforts to reach an agreement during the WTO’s upcoming general council meeting on July 20 and 21, which could lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands across the Global South and spread more infectious variants of the COVID-19 virus worldwide.
Dr. Steve Auerbach, a retired pediatrician, and epidemiologist said 14 billion doses are needed worldwide in the next six months to avoid newer and deadlier forms of the coronavirus sweeping the globe. He fears that resistant variants will continue to develop unless the whole world is vaccinated.
“Nobody is safe until everybody is safe,” Dr. Auerbach emphasized. “Here in New York, we know firsthand about how the COVID disease came in and decimated communities. We here in New York know that we are part of the global village and that whatever develops elsewhere in the world will come here too.”
Livvie Mann and Stewart Waldman, long-time activists with the political action group Rise and Resist, expressed that “it’s really crazy to think we are only vaccinating part of the world when it’s a worldwide pandemic. It’s insane that the wealthy countries have the ability to have extra vaccines and struggling countries don’t have enough.”
“These people that are dying aren’t numbers. They’re individuals,” Waldman added.