The Vaccine Hungry West

The Vaccine Hungry West

Inteemum Ahsan '24; Image by the BMJ

The past year and a half has not only brought almost everything to a glacial pace but has also almost brought international travel to a halt – and in some instances, completely stopped it. When the pandemic first started, it meant many international students, like me, could not attend college for a long period of time – some missed the first semester, some the whole year. After a long period of ebbs, flows, uncertainties, and almost-but-never-complete signs of hope, most of the world managed to get vaccinated – barely, of course – and started being able to travel more freely.

While many might have thought that the pandemic was coming to an end, especially with the waning of the Delta variant, the latest news reports have shattered that belief. A new variant is on the rise, and once again, international travel is the first in line to face the dire consequences. This time around, somewhat surprisingly, vaccination is a bigger concern than it was earlier.

While all of us living in America are able to access widely available vaccines – even booster shots – at no cost, most of the world – especially the countries who really need the vaccine – hasn’t even been able to get the first two doses. This disparity between the two parts of the world is becoming even more concerning – not just for vaccine availability, but by extension, possibility of future variants developing.

When the Delta variant started wreaking havoc, the pressing urgency of vaccine distribution became starker than it already was. The research was being done, the need for distribution was being voiced, but the West remained unrelenting in their grandma-like hoarding habits. News reports started talking about vaccine dumps, and the plight of the West as they scratched their heads to figure out how to put expiring vaccines to its best use, while countries like Bangladesh faced a severe shortage of vaccines, and consequently, a shortage of medical supplies to treat COVID patients.

Furthermore, the issue is exacerbated by the constant flurry of restrictive policies that the West continues to throw at countries ‘not doing well with COVID’ – failing to acknowledge that the resources to help said countries ‘do well’ with COVID is to stop gatekeeping vaccines. Unfortunately, change does not seem imminent, while anxiety surrounding the pandemic continues to spike to new heights.

Hypothetically, however, this problem could quite easily be solved. If the vaccines being dumped were simply dumped into countries that actually need them, the pandemic could potentially be overcome. However, the current system – which perplexingly gives life-saving vaccine distribution decisions to profit-driven money hungry corporations – does not seem like it will allow this issue to be solved anytime soon.

While countries experience new rises in daily deaths and have to scour for new burial grounds to dig up, we wait. We wait for the corporations to find sympathy. We wait for meaningless sanctions and restrictions – which are often used as excuses to not give out vaccines – to be lifted. Maybe the West will stop using lifesavers for landfill sometime soon.

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