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Get to Know Liza Barrie

Public Citizen News / May-June 2022

By Agnes Cazemiro

This article appeared in the May/June 2022 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

If you were to ask Liza Barrie to describe herself in three words, she’d say curious, versatile, and purposeful. Barrie joined Public Citizen as campaign director for Global Vaccine Access in December 2020, just as the U.S. began administering the first Covid-19 vaccinations. The White House had no plan – or enough vaccine doses – to help vaccinate the world and bring the pandemic under control.

However, Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program had already proposed just such a plan, laid out in a report entitled “How Biden Can Shore Up Global, U.S. Production of COVID-19 Vaccines.” The roadmap showed how the Biden administration could mobilize the global community, share the vaccine recipe, and build manufacturing capacity to save lives, revive economies, and bring America back to some degree of normalcy. Barrie was determined to be a part of the dedicated team that had outlined this vision and to join them in fighting for equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Before coming to Public Citizen, Barrie worked at UNICEF for 25 years, advocating for children’s and women’s rights, including families affected by HIV and AIDS and childhood immunization. She holds a bachelor’s degree in East Asian studies at Barnard College, followed by a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

What has been a defining moment in your life professionally and/or personally?
As a young person, I made the decision to put down the violin, which had been a real focus of my studies and absorbed much of my energy and time, and instead seriously pursue learning Mandarin. The new path opened up interesting possibilities and perspectives. I studied Mandarin in college and then lived and worked in Taiwan and mainland China for over a decade. In Beijing, I began my career with UNICEF. I managed to travel a great deal. Being a mother has been the best part.

How did you end up working at Public Citizen as Campaign Director for Global Vaccine Access?

The chance to work with the outstanding Access to Medicines Program on expanding global vaccine access was incredibly exciting, and the job aligned well with my skills and experience. After many years of working in a large institution, I wanted to be part of a smaller and more agile organization that is standing up to special interests and having a measurable impact on issues I care passionately about. I struck gold.

What skills would you say are necessary in your work?

My role as a campaign director requires good analytical, organizational, and networking skills, and sound judgment. I try to always be clear about our objectives, which can change with time and new opportunities. For me, strong teamwork can be one of the most joyful aspects of a job and it’s essential for successful campaigning.

What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?

Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program foresaw the massive global vaccine shortage that resulted in millions of lives lost needlessly as many leaders of powerful nations accepted and even encouraged vaccine apartheid. Our team showed an alternative to scarcity. Countries can teach one another to make highly effective mRNA vaccines, share knowledge and urgently build vaccine manufacturing infrastructure on every continent, protecting against future pandemics. We have been laser focused on challenging the Biden administration’s anemic global pandemic response as death estimates skyrocket and urging Congress to fund the global response. Our work exposing the profiteering of Pfizer, Moderna, and the other big pharmaceutical companies during the worst public health crisis in a century has been important. With so much at stake, I am proud that I was able to jump into my new role and support the work in meaningful ways while working remotely.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Life keeps me busy. Hiking, rowing on the Hudson River, and gardening are some of my favorite things to do outside in nature. I like to fiddle around on my violin, read nonfiction, and keep up with current events. At the local and county levels, I’m active with the Democratic party. Spending time with family and friends is also very important to me.