Originally published on 15/05/21----------------------------------
The AstraZeneca Macclesfield Campus looms in grayscale defiance. It appears out of the folds of the surrounding neighbourhood, concealing its presence behind layers of suburban households, as though it is scared to reside anywhere more exposed. There is a sense of rigidity about the place, a stiffness of the soul that makes me think of Human Resources offices, devoid of humour and rife with entitlement. I felt like I had arrived at Willy Wonka’s dystopian chocolate factory, the place where dreams were made. How else to envision the company whose manufacturing of the Covid-19 Vaccine is set to save the world? As the protesters marched past the gardens of those homes closest to the compound entrance, a woman began shouting from the second floor of a low-rise flat across the street: 
“What are you guys protesting?”
“AstraZeneca!” someone answers, without much gusto. 
“What for?” she asks. 
“Read the news!” 
She seems discontent with this answer. It’s hard to tell if her curiosity is sincere or just an attempt at trivialising the grassroots campaign occurring on her doorstep. The protest, organised by Global Justice Now, a social justice group seeking to bring the spotlight down on AstraZeneca for a multitude of reasons. On this particular day, the shareholders of the company are meeting to vote on whether the current CEO, Pascal Soriot, deserves an increase in salary for the coming year. As his base salary is around £1.3 million, it comes as no surprise that many independent advisory groups would object. In light of the recent legal action being levelled at AstraZeneca from the EU for failing to deliver enough of the vaccine, as well as the growing sentiment of a “Vaccine Apartheid,” it seems that the company have a hot potato in their hands and are running out of friends to catch it. 
Arriving at the entrance to their administration block, the overtones of grandeur and imperial sentiment were palpable. The police presence was a striking indication of where the lines were being drawn. They stood as a phalanx blocking off the entrance to the offices. They stalked the protesters through the streets in unmarked vehicles. Four squad cars and two transport vans were parked directly beside the protest. Meanwhile, the protesters, a group of around 40, stood outside the glass fronted office blocks in the pouring rain, their hemp hoodies and corduroy trousers becoming increasingly waterlogged. I went to speak to some of them, asking about their decision to participate and who they came with. One student from York claimed he had heard about the protest only 10 days ago, and wasn’t able to get anyone to come along. 
“It’s exam period, you know? People are pretty busy right now. And it’s a Tuesday.” 
Speaking to Ludo, student from the University of Stirling and president of the local Global Justice Society, he had this to say:
“It’s crazy, we got to the entrance, and a guy working in the offices saw us, got up and closed the curtains, and that was that. Now his guilt is clear and he can just ignore us while we stand out here in the rain. That’s how easy it is for these guys.”
One of the speakers for the event was a medical subject from the early vaccination development trials in the UK. He gave a speech about the respect due to those who participated in such trials, saying that they took the risk thinking that a successful trial could benefit the entire world, and claiming a patent over such success was a dishonourable practice. Although his speech was earnest and well delivered, something about it was a bit jarring. Maybe it had something to do with the film crew swarming around him like flies, shooting a new HBO documentary set to come out in 2022. 
Another speaker was an honours student from India. He spoke about the current outbreak there.
“People are dying. They are not dying from Covid itself, but from the lack of healthcare. They are running out of oxygen, beds, and other crucial supplies. The government is guilty. People are dying so fast they are now throwing bodies into the river Ganges. We need free vaccinations for everyone.”
The rain was ominous and unyielding. It began as the protesters marched onto the campus, and felt bespoke for the occasion. Cold winds rattled flimsy cardboard signs, soaking them through in minutes. The incessant water made fools of the crowd, discouraging the half-hearted and sending many home. Those who remained received little for their efforts, save some samosas at lunchtime and the many glares from passing employees, resentful that their day had been disturbed by the presence of outsiders in their chrome-covered workspace. While the protest itself was planned and executed with great precision, the weather was as undermining and morally oppressive as the police guarding the entrance to AstraZeneca.  
What value does a company working to save the world have if, upon discovering a solution, it decides that the world isn’t worth the potential profit? Recent findings demonstrated that 97% of the research AstraZeneca used to produce the vaccine was publicly funded. Given the rest of their production costs have been massively subsidised by government grants, their concern for profits seems not only unfounded and greedy, but blatantly unethical. When intellectual property law stands in the way of a global health crisis, what recourse do people have if the product of the research that their taxes paid for is being kept from them?
Vaccinations only represent a partial solution until everyone has one. While a vast portion of the world population remains unvaccinated, the virus is attempting to evolve, mutate, and eventually find a way around those who have been. The UK currently has a population of just under 67 million. AstraZeneca only has the capacity to produce a limited amount of the vaccine at any one time. If the vaccination technology were shared among all economies, including developing countries and the global south, not only would the rest of the world receive their vaccination faster, but so would the UK. Currently, AstraZeneca is suffering the consequences of not diversifying their supply chain. The company estimates it will only deliver 100 million doses by June 2021, as opposed to the 300 million initially committed. 
Pretty soon, we could be witnessing the troubles incurred from “Vaccine Passports”, restricting world travel to a privileged upper class of individuals, or even entire nations, who have the ability to travel freely thanks to their vaccination, while unvaccinated people are contained within national borders, on the grounds of “public safety.” If allowed to go unchecked, this could be the beginning of an entire new system of global class division. 
Speaking to Nick Dearden, chief organiser and head of Global Justice Now, I asked him what he thought of the day and what he’d like to see happen next.
“I’m surprised we got this close,” he laughs, gesturing toward the building entrance eight feet away. “It’s good that Biden has come out in support of the TRIPS waiver; now we need to see the UK government do the same. We need to see big change in regards to intellectual property in healthcare.”
As the protest was winding down and people were dispersing, the news came through that Pascal Soriot was awarded his pay rise, with 60% of shareholders voting in favour. As I put away my camera and the police began walking the protesters from the property, the clouds parted and rays of beautiful sunshine broke through, warming our faces for the first time that day. It seemed as though, somewhere above, the gods were laughing at us. 
Who else but gods could dangle the fate of humanity between their fingers, and seem to enjoy it so damn much?
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