By Lucca Guzman-Gieseken ’24
As we end the second year of our new COVID ravaged lives, we still face an uncertain future and the possibility that “normalcy” is just a fictional thing. The release of the vaccine and its additional boosters coaxed back to the possibility of a COVID free future certain actors, world powers, and politicized individuals have chewed up our hope and spit it back in our face. While anti-vax and mask ideology runs rampant in Western countries with the capabilities of fully vaccinating their entire populations (new boosters and all), African countries are struggling to receive and distribute the first round of the vaccine. Currently less than 10% of Sub-Saharan Africans have received their first dose, while Western countries, on the other hand, are sitting around 70%. What these numbers display is the ways in which Western countries continue to hold the “Third World ” in their Western constructed “underdeveloped” status. While Western countries have promised to buy and distribute shots for low-income nations, only 15% percent of these shots have been given out all while the West is hoarding resources that these countries vitally need now. This takes form in the fact that vaccine producers have their vaccines patented which are marketed as a way to keep the economy viable and productive, this is a farce. In reality we know this is just a manifestation of the inequalities produced by capitalist systems. The withholding by these companies so they pursue revenue means that low-income countries have to attempt to manufacture their own vaccines even when there is a variety of known formulas that could be used. This effort to produce regional vaccines is redundant and a waste of scarce resources, but is the only avenue for these countries that cannot obtain vaccines. This is best represented by a statement made by President Luis Arce of Bolivia: “Access to the vaccine should be considered a human right. We cannot be indierent, much less protection from health in pandemic times.” However, the deprivation doesn’t end here. Recent events further highlight race-based inequalities that Western nations are fast to resurface and utilize. I am of course talking about the discovery of the Omicron variant.
Omicron was discovered by the South African countries and a subsequent travel ban was placed on 8, and in some cases more, African countries by Western countries. This action has been highly scrutinized because it seems as though these countries are being punished and scapegoated for the discovery of the variant, instead of being praised for making the world aware of a new strain. This action is further insulting when you take into consideration a couple other factors, beginning with the fact that only 5 of the 40 countries that have Omicron cases are in Africa, showing it has nothing to do with curbing the spread of Omicron but has everything to do with perpetuating racial divisions. This compulsory nature of reverting to racialization in times of crisis is all-to normal in our international community, which has only been further emphasized by the pandemic and the West’s incessant need to scapegoat certain countries and ethnic groups for the spread of the virus. These actions are incredibly hypocritical when the West makes up a majority of new COVID cases and has made no real efforts to ensure the safety of their citizens within their country, instead they ensnare other less fortunate countries with restrictions that can further cripple them in already desperate times. Additionally, even if there is a time when African countries are experiencing surges of COVID cases and new variants the fault is not their own, it completely falls on Western countries for not sharing knowledge and vaccines when the capabilities of doing so are and have been present. Thus, this travel ban is duplicitous in nature: its premise of protecting a country’s populace from a variant that hasn’t presented any separate properties than Delta and the fact the danger of infection isn’t coming from outside of these said countries, rather they are their own enemy. The lack of regulation and “business as usual” mindsets in Western countries push the idea that we are on track to beating the virus when in reality it’s the thing keeping us in perpetual limbo, making it easy for us to blame other countries and people for this continued crisis. This is all manifested in this unnecessarily racialized travel ban, proving that health is not the central issue rather its race.