by Jaesuh Lee, News Editor
graphic by Ellyssa Jeong
The COVID-19 vaccine has been administered to citizens in 194 countries since its introduction in December 2020, but large disparities remain regarding nations’ access to vaccines.
Though manufacturers including Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have produced and sold billions of doses, family members of South students around the world have felt the effects of such disparities, with limited access to vaccines slowing their return to normality.
This May, India, a country where many South families have ties to, experienced widespread chaos as the second wave of COVID-19 cases surged into the millions. Overcrowded conditions in major cities and under-equipped public health infrastructure caused one of the most devastating outbreaks seen so far.
The Indian government, despite failing to administer an adequate number of vaccines and unreliably reporting the status of the pandemic’s spread in the country, decided to reopen to nearly its full capacity. The result was skyrocketing cases as people disregarded precautionary guidelines such as mask wearing and social distancing.
Anindya Talukdar, the uncle of junior Ahona Dam said that the abrupt arrival of the second wave panicked citizens and exposed how ill-prepared the government was.
“We were not even close to vaccination,” he said. “[The government thought] it would be under control very soon, but all of a sudden, they realized that they’re lacking in basic hospital facilities and medicine.”
Poor government management and mixed communication displayed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration were far from uncommon around the globe. Like India, South Korea contained COVID-19 relatively well early on, but the insufficient vaccine rollout and lack of internal coordination culminated to an unprecedented wave in cases.
Junior Jaesuh Lee’s aunt Lee Ji Young said that the South Korean government handled vaccinations ineffectively.
“The Korean government started initiating the vaccination system too late. Due to disruptions in supply, the public’s vaccination schedule continues to be delayed,” she said.
The situation in countries lacking abundant financial resources have been worse off, and junior Zavian Irfan’s mother Mehwish Hayat said that she was worried about Pakistan’s ability to adequately control the spread of COVID-19.
“Pakistan lacks healthcare infrastructure to contain a pandemic,” she said. “I was very worried for my family, friends and the country in general.”
During this second wave, aid came much later than needed, as Talukdar said it was only when news coverage about the dire situation in India gained attention that foreign assistance began to arrive.
“When everybody started reading the stories of India, [about] the 400-500,000 active cases [and] hospitals running short of oxygen supply and PPE, wealthier countries started supplying oxygen,” he said.
Despite prioritizing vulnerable populations’ access to vaccines, countries that face shortages have slower rollouts compared to their better-supplied counterparts.
Junior Preethika Vemula’s uncle Chandrashekhar Singamsetty said that due to India’s large population in the 18-45 year-old group, there was immense pressure to get as many people vaccinated as possible quickly, despite the limited supply of shots.
“This is the population, which is the highest share in India’s population and the working age,” he said. “It’s close to 45% … and 45% of 1.3 billion is quite a high population. You can imagine the kind of rush.”
The hesitancy that some Americans display towards getting vaccinated has left many around the world puzzled. In Korea, where vaccine supply is low despite the high demand, people find it odd that Americans refuse vaccines, senior Paul Hong’s father Park Ji Ok said.
“In Korea, there are very distinct cultural differences compared to America, and it’s seen as a given that one takes steps to help contain the coronavirus,” he said. “Because of these differences, I, alongside many other Koreans, are not able to understand why Americans refuse to take the vaccine.”
The United States is not the only country where vaccine supply has begun to surpass demand, and in certain nations, many citizens refuse the shot. During a trip to visit her family in Bulgaria this summer, junior Adela Cronk said she observed that many there believed in the effectiveness of the vaccines, but felt that getting the shot was unnecessary.
“Most people have already had COVID-19 and don’t feel the need to get vaccinated,” she said.
Vaccines have proven to protect people against serious illnesses caused by the virus, which has already taken so many lives. For South families in countries with vaccine shortages, infections and death caused by COVID-19 have not been uncommon.
Hayat said that she knew of four people who were infected with the virus.
For Talukdar, his elderly neighbor passed away from COVID.
“He was in the hospital, and within a week, he expired. I was very saddened because he was near and dear [to me],” he said.
Although vaccine shortages do not immediately impact vaccination in Newton and the South community, the shortages gravely touch the daily lives of the broader international community and family members around the world; it is pivotal to not take for granted something so obviously and readily available to us like the access of vaccines.