Waiving patent rights calls for an awesome PR campaign

Dear President Biden,

I’m so happy to see that you and your administration have come around to the humanitarian and highly practical decision to waive the patent rights on the coronavirus vaccines – well done! I know there’s a lot more wrangling, hashing out, and parsing of language that needs to happen before the thing is signed and the patent sharing actually starts, but at least the process is going.

Now, there are two huge additional, related questions that you and your administration need to grapple with and those are 1) what about providing technical support so that countries with less technological infrastructure can actually manufacture the vaccines soon? and 2) what about the need to shore up supply chains so that there aren’t breakdowns that stall getting enough vaccine made to protect everyone? I know you all are tracking on these issues because talk of them is all over the press, but it’s really critical that you and Ms. Tai step up and talk about these nitty-gritty (huge-ass) details sooner rather than later since they are part of the herd of elephants knocking about the premises right now.

The other major (most major?) issue you all have to contend with now is coming up with a not overly complicated but super compelling argument for why waiving vaccine patent rights (and providing technical support and bolstering supply lines) is in America’s best interest. I wish this PR part wasn’t so important and that we just intuitively, instinctively grasped the importance of taking care not only of the people who happen to be current US citizens (since I don’t think we’re doing a good job by undocumented people in our midst), but also of everyone else given that we’re all inextricably tied together.

In her most wonderful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer says that “all flourishing is mutual” – maybe you could check with her to see if you can use this phrase and this framing in trying to counteract all of the nationalistic rhetoric the right-wingers of various stripes are going to be crying foul over. (This is an aside, but I think it’s going to be kind of amusing watching them be bombastic about how we need to take care of our own first in one breath, while they hew to the dangerous “covid is a farce, you don’t need no stinkin’ vaccine” bullshit in the next breath. I mean, seriously, this is going to engender some really good word salads.)

“All flourishing is mutual.”

Imagine how powerful it could be, would be, to get that idea out into the mainstream and lodged in many millions of minds. Not only would it help with the global covid vaccine effort, but it would help marshal support for global warming mitigation efforts and it would help build support for your American Families Plan. If you could really bring people around to the idea that flourishing is truly a team sport and that we can’t do it if only a select few get all the bennies, it would be a momentous achievement. It would signal a real turning of this country towards ways of being together that are about mutual aid, generosity, interdependence, compassion, and care – what a wonderful legacy that would be for you and Harris.

So, what I’m suggesting is that you get your best, most empathetic people to work on this kind of messaging so you all can have a consistent, straight-to-most-hearts core set of phrases explaining to us why it makes sense to build vaccine capacity in India and Brazil and the African Continent and then use that same set of phrases to tell us why we have got to take drastic measures to curb greenhouse gasses and the availability of assault rifles while we build affordable and equitable childcare systems and higher education options. We basically need to be re-set and re-oriented towards ways of being that are life giving and sustaining and we need this to happen very, very soon so please do a good job with this critical PR campaign.

May we all be safe from COVID and the countless other potential harms looming.
May we all be willing to embrace the reality that “all flourishing is mutual.”
May we use our strengths and our gifts wisely.
May we accept that to do otherwise endangers us all.

Tracy Simpson

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