How the Star-Studded VAX Live Concert with 27,000 Frontline Workers in the Audience Was Pulled Off
"We actually had to work at every level of government apparatus to make sure that we could do so safely and effectively," Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans tells PEOPLE
Global Citizen's VAX Live: The Concert to Reunite the World not only featured stars like Selena Gomez, Chrissy Teigen, and performances of Jennifer Lopez and the Foo Fighters, it was the culmination of hard work and rigorous safety measures.
With some 27,000 health care workers were at the event, the concert marks the largest scale gathering of people in the U.S. since the pandemic caused nationwide lockdowns last spring.
Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans tells PEOPLE that the idea for the concert came when Global Citizen and their partners at the Ad Council "saw two huge trends emerging."
"The first trend was a lack of vaccine uptake and hesitancy around the vaccine," Evans adds. "So we knew we needed to address that and show the science behind the vaccine. Development has shown that they are safe and effective. But the second thing we saw emerging was the huge vaccine inequality because certain nations were frankly in a higher price for the cost of the vaccines and therefore were holding the vaccines."
While vaccination rates are around one in five in Europe and one in three in North America, "in Africa, it's one in a hundred," Evans says.
The next step? Get a superstar to perform.
When Global Citizen reached out to Lopez, 51, to headline, "she was incredibly generous and just said straight away she'd love to, and the momentum built from there," Evans says, before thanking his team for bringing together the amazing talent for the night.
Going above and beyond her hosting duties for the concert, Gomez, 28, before the event "started tweeting at world leaders, G7 and G20 leaders, urging them to step up their investment into vaccines globally."
After Gomez's tweet to the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, he "committed 7.5 million doses to frontline community health workers across Latin America," Evans says.
"She tweeted at Chuck Robbins of Cisco," Evans adds. "He responded, committed $5 million, which is the equivalent of a million doses of the vaccine so those who need it most through the COVAX facility. So there was this incredible cause and effect."
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who were co-chairs of Global Citizen's campaign, "convened a private sector round table, encouraging Fortune 500 CEOs to make major contributions. And that led everyone from Procter & Gamble, through to MasterCard, through to Coca Cola, step up and make major contributions for vaccine equity."
And during his appearance at the concert, "Prince Harry brought this message of combating vaccine misinformation that is prevalent on many of the social media platforms and something that he's very passionate about."
"So I think that the great thing about this campaign was just the degree to which everyone was willing to work so hard to achieve the outcome," Evans adds. "It wasn't as though people participated just on the night, they were part of the architecture of the campaign itself."
In terms of pulling off a show with 27,000 fully vaccinated health care professionals in attendance with some of the biggest names in the entertainment business, Evans says, "We literally had to have a laundry list of things that we had to do to make sure that we complied entirely with all of the relevant COVID protocols."
And the protocols were understandably extensive, including "everything from making sure that every single person in the audience was fully vaccinated before April 18. We had to do PCR, not rapid tests for every person who was on production every day that they were on site; we had to do temperature checks. We had to do large-scale vaccine verification."
Working not only with Mayor Eric Garrett of Los Angeles and Mayor James T. Butts of Inglewood, Evans says that Governor Gavin Newsom "was directly involved and actually came on site the day before as part of the preparation."
"We actually had to work at every level of government apparatus to make sure that we could do so safely and effectively," Evans adds. "And the reason why we did that is that we wanted to show what's possible when the world opens up, but we had to do so in a way that was safe and effective, because the best thing is when someone comes to an event and they feel like they're safe.
Evans describes the mood backstage as "very focused on the mission." As a result of the concert, "over $53 million was committed as part of the live show," Evans confirms.
And beyond that, Global Citizen got "calls from governments around the world" of "tallies of at least 10 million doses above and above and beyond what we announced on the night."
And when it comes to the special moment when Lopez brought out her mom, Guadalupe Rodríguez, to sing a duet of "Sweet Caroline," Evans says it "was entirely Jennifer's idea," adding, "I think the great thing about J. Lo is her creative vision is so precise."
Lopez opened up in the concert about how due to the pandemic, she was unable to see her mom for the holidays.
Of the moment the mother-daughter shared on-stage, Evans says, "I was sitting on the production desk watching when she Brough on her mum and I was like, 'Wow, that's it.' I just felt the goosebumps all over. There was something incredibly powerful about that moment of connection after the year that whole world is endured."
VAX Live airs on ABC, ABC News Live, CBS, YouTube, iHeartMedia broadcast radio stations and the iHeartRadio App starting at8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. CT, Fox starting at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT, and YouTube on the Global Citizen channel with an extended version on Saturday, May 8.
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