Don’t look away: my people are still dying
My parents and I live in complete opposite continents and different timezones. It’s always “opposite” day when I call my parents. I would be pouring milk into my breakfast cereal, while they sit down to have dinner. When I am bundled up in layers in the winter, they continue wearing flip flops and fan themselves against the heat wave. They stay up late to pray to our ancestors during the Lunar New Year, while I go to bed early for an 8AM meeting. I have grown used to living in an alternate reality with my parents, so having a different pandemic experience shouldn’t shock me so much but it did.
Every conversation I’ve had with my American peers these days has been what a post-pandemic world would look like. We debate about the cause of the labor shortage, that companies must create hybrid schedules to remain relevant, and watch Tik-Tok videos about the awkward decision to wear a mask despite being vaccinated. We are so high on optimism that we’ve turned a blind eye against the pandemic that continues to rage on in developing countries like Malaysia.
So I look over my shoulders and find my parents still stuck in the nightmare of the pandemic. They can’t get themselves out of the cycle of a virus that continues to ravage unprotected countries
“I am going to fly back to Malaysia on November 30th, because [friend]’s wedding is on December 3rd,” I told my father on the phone.
“Ha? How can your friend be sure they will be allowed to have a wedding by that time?”
“It’s 6 months away! I’m sure you guys will all get the vaccine by then.”
“Last year this time, we all said it will be over in a year. But now, look where we are — we are just now beginning.”
It rattled me to hear that pessimism — pessimism that I recognized from myself just months ago. Vaccine supplies were low and positive cases were at an all time high. The Trump administration had an opaque approach to vaccine distribution that left pharmacies and states scrambling to secure and deliver vaccines. But things turned around quick for us. The Biden-Harris administration purchased more vaccines, increased reimbursement, and deployed federal resources for vaccination in rural areas. This culminated to more than half of all U.S adults being vaccinated today.
But the reality of this swift change cannot be embraced without also recognizing the U.S’s hoarding of vaccines.
“There is no diplomatic way to say it: a small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in opening comments at the WHO’s annual assembly.
A billion vaccines have been contracted to be in surplus among 5 wealthy countries (U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan, and Australia) and the EU. These excess doses are could vaccinate everyone in Southeast Asia three times over. These large orders also mean orders for other countries would not be fulfilled until later in the year after the manufacturers fulfill the contract with wealthier countries. Experts have called on countries with absurd surpluses to pledge to equitable distribution, even if it meant one vaccine donation for every nine administered.
In addition, in order to ensure Pfizer was playing by the rules, the United States made Pfizer agreed not to supply their vaccines to other countries at a lower price as part of their contract with the United States. This may make Americans feel better that they are not paying more for the vaccine, but what does that mean for countries without the means to pay USD$39 per vaccine series?
This is a global pandemic with global implications. While the U.S. is recovering and I am eager to make plans again, I urge you to not turn a blind eye. It may be coming to an end for us in America, but not for many other billions of people abroad. It’s real and it is happening even if it isn’t being shared on your social media feed.
When history turns its eyes on us, the United States will be remembered as the country that bore the worst brunt of COVID-19 during 2020 with more than 34 million cases and 600k+ deaths. But as we recover in 2021, with a fiery display of celebration on Fourth of July, the world will turn its eyes on us. In locked down cities around the world, people will watch as America celebrates on the streets. What are the Americans doing to help the rest of humanity?
I urge you to not turn away. I know there is a fatigue in consuming pandemic news but please do not turn away. Keep supporting the stories and journalists that are speaking truth to power and holding politicians around the world accountable in equitable vaccination distribution.
A global pandemic requires global response. Please, keep the light on.