A benefit concert leveraged major star power in a Saturday broadcast to address the latest obstacles to resolving the pandemic: vaccine inequity and vaccine hesitancy.
During Global Citizen’s “Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World,” politicians, celebrities and musicians pleaded with the public to get vaccinated and discouraged world leaders from stockpiling vaccine supplies, as the world faces stark gaps in access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The event — pre-taped at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., before an in-person audience of 27,000 fully vaccinated health care and essential workers — painted a picture of what a post-pandemic world could look like if all were immunized against the coronavirus.
At the top of the show, in her first of two performances of the night, pop star Jennifer Lopez embraced her mother on stage during a rendition of “Sweet Caroline.”
“We’ve been away from our loved ones for too long, but we’re back,” Lopez said. “While it’s getting better for us, there are people all over the world — especially in Africa, India and in the Latin world — who still need our help and our vaccines.”
Hugh Evans, CEO of the anti-poverty organization Global Citizen that put on the event, said that mother-daughter moment was “the power of the vaccine at work.”
“They were both fully vaccinated and, therefore, you can hug your friends and family again,” he told NPR. “It’s those powerful things that we were working towards.”
Ahead of the broadcast, Global Citizen said its campaign had raised $302 million and secured over 26 million COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The money will go toward vaccine delivery, testing and personal protective equipment, as part of the COVAX initiative. The effort, led by the World Health Organization, Gavi and other partners, aims to evenly distribute vaccines and supplies around the world.
Evans said all of the vaccine doses pledged will be delivered to low-income countries by the end of this year per an agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Prince Harry, who co-chaired the event with his wife Megan Markle, took the stage to thank frontline workers.
“We cannot rest or truly recover until there is fair distribution to every corner of the world,” said the Duke of Sussex. “The virus does not respect borders and access to the vaccine cannot be determined by geography.”
“We must look beyond ourselves with empathy and compassion for those we know, and those we don’t.”
While the U.S. and other wealthy countries have more doses than people who want them, the poorest ones have gotten less than 1% of the global supply.
India is facing a severe second wave and just 2% of its population is fully vaccinated. And two dozen countries, mostly in Africa, are using less than a third of their vaccines due to distrust over perceived risks and a lack of international support to help cover vaccine delivery.
The event also saw video messages from Pope Francis, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
His Holiness called for “a spirit of justice that mobilizes us to ensure true universal access to vaccines” and “a spirit of communion that allows us to generate a different economic model that is inclusive, just and sustainable.”
The president and first lady encouraged people to get vaccinated: “We can’t let up now,” President Biden said. “The vaccines are safe, I promise you, they’re safe. They work.”
In a snappy narrated clip, Oprah Winfrey unpacked the science of vaccines and rollout logistics with the help of public health experts.
Meghan Markle spoke about how women worldwide, especially women of color, “have seen a generation of economic gain wiped out,” due to the pandemic, with millions facing extreme poverty.
Selena Gomez, who hosted the concert special, sent an urgent plea to viewers.
“If you’re on the fence about getting vaccinated, if you don’t think you need it to protect yourself, I’m not going to lecture you. I’m going to beg you. Please get vaccinated — for your family, your neighbors, and every single person you come in contact with,” the singer said.
Also appearing on stage were Chrissy Teigen, David Letterman, Ben Affleck, Jimmy Kimmel, Sean Penn and Olivia Munn.
Musical acts included the Foo Fighters — with a surprise guest AC/DC’s Brian Johnson — along with Eddie Vedder, J Balvin and H.E.R.