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Vax for Me, Not for Thee

Published in IFD Newsletter Vol.1-Issue7. The fourth issue of ToFD from IFD Research Fellow, Mohammad Ahsan Fuzail.

Here, Fuzail makes the case for relevant authorities across the globe to include every single member of the population within their borders in their upcoming vaccination drives. No doubt, the elderly and front-line/essential/healthcare workers should be protected but it is at best, naive and at worst malicious to ignore that so many of the above mentioned and other groups of people are also some of the most marginalized members of present society - and a society is only as healthy as its least protected constituent.


Vax for Me, not for Thee

In an already over-complicated, and fatally decentralized vaccine rollout, Nebraska’s Governor Ricketts (R) said on January 5th that undocumented workers working at meat packing companies would not be vaccinated. In the interest of fairness it is important to note that the Governor’s office later clarified that ‘proof of American citizenship will not be required for vaccinations.’ And in the interest of justice, I say that the above clarification is pointless. Across all the imaginary lines we have drawn as a species, a virus 900 times smaller than a single human hair has claimed 2.05million lives and counting. COVID-19 has been ruthlessly indiscriminate. And even those who - a full year into a pandemic - can only think about returning to the unjust world we occupied, must concede that any ‘return to normalcy’ begins with unifying the pandemic response for all members of society. We are at the cusp of a golden opportunity with the emerging vaccines, to begin this unification immediately and emphatically.

The reasoning behind this is simple: mountains of data have already shown that historically marginalized and disregarded peoples have been hit hardest during the pandemic. While this is reason enough to prioritize the vaccine response for communities such as undocumented or migrant workers, I believe that as one, we are as healthy as the least protected people in our communities. Unchecked viral spread in the workers and people whose lives have literally been bet on by employers, while they remained vulnerable to the dual ravages of a pandemic, and a brutal police state simply for being immigrants or refugees will only exacerbate the pandemic and its worst elements. For those looking for the nearest slip lane out of the pandemic, it is as plain as ensuring that every one of us is able to get vaccinated as safely and expeditiously as possible.

Let us look at this through the perspective of Singapore’s experience with their immigrant workers during the height of infections in Singapore. As the country went into a partial lockdown, the government encouraged regular exercise, people were allowed to go shopping and deliveries soared - all on the back of a lightened workforce of 10,000 of their low-wage foreign workers. And so, Singapore fought back the virus with the graph of general community cases plummeting - to the point where it becomes barely visible. Parallel to the graph, a dire situation was brewing: the community case graph became so, only because it was dwarfed by that of cases in the worker dorms. In some cases, they remained 8 to a room, sealed off from outside by authorities, or forced to share 6 urinals and communal bathrooms with dozens of other workers. This pandemic ends, when the selectiveness of the global response does. We cannot end it if we continue measures that do not extend to the entirety of our populations - as Singapore soon learned.

I repeat: from day 1, COVID-19 has been indiscriminate - young and old, rich and poor; people at all stages and from all walks of life have fallen victim to this virus. Unfortunately for us, the politicization of the virus despite this simple truth has hampered our response on global, national and local levels. At the same time, as middle and upper class people hid from the plague ravaging the land, working class folks brought them food and supplies whenever they needed. And now, as the world continues to work towards reopening - at a time when deaths reached as high as 4,000 in a day in the US alone - it becomes ever more apparent that the entire plan revolved around the perceived expendability of those deemed less important by world leaders, public health and worker safety authorities.

In conclusion, it is great that authorities are prioritizing vaccination for healthcare and essential workers and the elderly, and that across the world they plan to roll it out to their citizens. I only plead that as late as it may be, we finally apply a framework of consistency to the response, because millions of these healthcare and essential workers, millions of the elderly, millions of people - who form the crushing economy we are so restless to revive - are at risk of being left unvaccinated, simply due to immigration, employment or other irrelevant statuses. Why? Because after a year of unprecedented agony for the undocumented, for immigrants, for migrant workers, for internally displaced persons, for Indigenous communities,and for all the other most marginalized communities of our world, we somehow think the very basis on which our world marginalizes them, is justification for denying them the vaccine. I want to be clear: this will only make our situation worse, as a collective and the trail of failed half-hearted measures over the past year only serves to make this an undeniable outcome to arrive at.


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