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George Poe Williams

Liberian nurse George Poe Williams protests Big Pharma profiteering and vaccine monopolies outside the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland on May 25, 2022. (Photo: Leo Hyde/Public Services International/cc)

Nurse From Liberia Holds 'Clap for Pharma Profits' Protest at Davos

"Me and my frontline colleagues saw pain, misery, death," said George Poe Williams. "Bourla and the other pharma executives here in Davos saw a chance to pump up profits."

Brett Wilkins

Public health advocates on Wednesday applauded an African nurse who came up with a novel way to protest pharmaceutical industry profiteering during the Covid-19 pandemic—by sardonically clapping for Big Pharma executives attending the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

"If I wanted to earn what Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla made last year, I would have to work every single day until 6100 A.D."

George Poe Williams, a frontline nurse from Liberia, launched his "Clap for Pharma Profits" protest as pharmaceutical corporations reap $1,000 per second in profits while price gouging and blocking patent waivers as the world's poorest countries remain largely unvaccinated against a virus that's killed more than 6.2 million people.

"This forum is clearly made to represent the interests of the financial elite," Williams said of the Davos gathering, "not the interests of us workers who actually make the world economy work."

"If I wanted to earn what Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla made last year, I would have to work every single day until 6100 A.D.," he added. "But what makes me really furious is that Bourla and many of his billionaire buddies here at WEF are doing all they can to block our demands for a patent waiver—just so they can make even more money."

Williams' clapping protest—during which he says he was harassed by police—drew applause from public health, trade justice, and other campaigners.

"While Pfizer CEO Bourla is pondering how to morally get away with $24 million in pay/year, frontline worker and nurse George Poe Williams is calling out pharma's role in blocking access to lifesaving tools by not waiving patents," tweeted Médecins Sans Frontières Access international campaign manager Lara Dovifat.

In Liberia, only about 28% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. In at least 17 countries, less than 10% of people have been fully inoculated against the coronavirus. In Haiti, the figure is just over 1%. In Burundi, it's one-tenth of 1%.

Liberia is one of more than 100 countries that support a World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement waiver, an Indian and South African proposal aimed at tackling vaccine inequity that would suspend coronavirus-related patents for the duration of the pandemic. The pharmaceutical industry and most wealthy nations oppose the proposal, with exceptions including the United States and France.

Meanwhile, tax-dodging pharmaceutical companies have raked in over $34 billion in profits during the pandemic, thanks largely to vaccine monopolies, even as more than 90% of vaccine research and investment came from public funding.

"These blocking governments are putting the interests of pharma corporations ahead of the lives of billions across the Global South," Williams asserted. "Vaccine production continues to be restricted by patents. In Liberia, only a third of us are vaccinated. If they don't act now, they will have blood on their hands."

"Me and my frontline colleagues saw pain, misery, death. Bourla and the other pharma executives here in Davos saw a chance to pump up profits," he added ."I'm not waiting for them to have a moral epiphany—I'm asking that the few remaining governments stop blocking this waiver and start putting our lives ahead of pharma profits."

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