The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented time in all of our lives. It has affected us in ways that we never could have expected. However, it is clear that the pandemic has not affected all of us equally, and more importantly, it is far from over for many of us. This has been a tale of two pandemics, with vulnerable communities in developing countries experiencing a vastly different pandemic than most Americans.
The pandemic has highlighted many injustices within our society. Inequality has been the prevailing theme, from varying experiences between communities to vaccine accessibility. Some of us are beginning to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, thanks to convenient access to vaccines. Others are continuing to wait, suffering because of a deeply inequitable national and global healthcare environment.
Although the rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths are at a low point in the U.S., that is certainly not the case in much of the developing world. Developing countries are struggling with access to vaccines and distribution through their current healthcare infrastructure. President Biden has recently taken important steps to donate half a billion doses of vaccines to developing countries, but who will receive these vaccines and how they will be distributed in these countries is still an open question.
While the U.S. is beginning to accelerate sending vaccines abroad, it is far behind other nations. The U.S. recently donated a mere 80 vaccines to Trinidad and Tobago, a country of over 1.3 million people that in May received 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China. This clearly raises the question of who will get these 80 American vaccines in Trinidad and why the U.S. is lagging far behind China and Russia in donating vaccines to the developing world.
With limited supply in developing countries, the reality is that accessing a vaccine is much easier if one can afford to go through black market channels, which clearly heightens inequality and empowers the already powerful. This is a contrast to many Americans, who have the convenience of accessing a vaccine at their nearby pharmacy.
It must be remembered that the health of others is within all of our best interests. As we know, COVID-19 can mutate into other varieties that could potentially be deadlier, spread faster, and be more resistant to vaccines. The longer COVID-19 is allowed to exist and grow in the world, the more likely it is to mutate into a variant that will impact all of us.
We can thank the scientists who contributed to the Pfizer-Biotech, Moderna, AstraZeneca vaccines, but now the tough job if getting the vaccines into the hands of everyone and ensuring equitable and immediate distribution. What good is the vaccine if only certain populations have access to it?
The truth is that we belong to one global, interconnected community. Our health is among the most important aspects of our existence, and in order to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible there must no longer be a distinction between vaccinating an American and vaccinating a foreigner. An “us” verses “them” mindset will not get us closer to achieving a COVID-free world.
The pandemic has reminded us of many important lessons. Particularly, that the wellbeing of others is within our own interests, that helping others is a way to help ourselves, and that we are stronger when we work together. Instead of a tale of two pandemics, we must strive to tell a different story, a story of equity.