Writer: Harry Zhao
Editor: Veronica Yung
Graphic Designer: Pat Sevikul
A crucial aspect of diminishing the impact and increasing the chance of recovery from the pandemic is the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the distribution of and access to vaccines are not equal for all groups of people due to the mismanagement of healthcare resources. The irresponsible management of vaccines causes serious shortages, putting countless lives at risk and hindering herd immunity. People from disadvantaged backgrounds and locations have more difficulty obtaining the vaccines, even when they are more susceptible to the virus and its impacts. These disparities leave these communities overlooked and unprotected.
In many developed countries such as the USA, minority groups such as POC and Indigenous Americans are at a higher risk of contracting diseases and disease-related deaths and hospitalisation, and feel a greater impact from the pandemic. This is greatly due to social factors such as lower and less stable income, working in professions that expose them to viruses, and limited access to healthcare systems. Yet at the same time, these barriers also mean that African-, Asian- and Latino-Americans are also less likely to take vaccinations against COVID-19 due to implicit racism in healthcare and the perceived likelihood of contracting the virus while attending medical care, discouraging them from getting the vaccination.
Among the LGBTQ+ community and ethnic minorities, there is an increased mistrust and skepticism towards the vaccine. Studies of the attitudes of LGBTQ+ community towards vaccination show that Black participants express less inclination take the vaccination than their white peers. This stems partly from the historical biases in the medical system against these demographics, which causes them to feel uncertain about taking the vaccine. Transgender people may fear that the vaccination's side effects will affect their hormones, and similarly many are concerned about the vaccination's manufacturing process. The lack of inclusive information and representation of minorities in the vaccination process causes hesitancy, especially when compounded with socioeconomic factors.
In Less Developed/Developing Countries:
There is a disproportionate amount of vaccines bought by developed countries, with the G7 countries purchasing a third of the world's vaccines despite only making up 13% of the total population. This leaves other countries with an insufficient amount to fully combat COVID-19. Currently, only 2% of the population in low-income countries has taken their first shot, compared to developed countries with over half of their is population vaccinated. Leaders from these countries accuse richer countries of vaccine nationalism and vaccine hoarding. Peru, which has the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world but only 30% of its population vaccinated, claims that international solidarity has failed to support poorer countries. The African continent is especially vulnerable, with 900 million more people awaiting vaccination in order to achieve herd immunity; otherwise, Africa is defenseless against newer, more ferocious variants of the virus.
An example of vaccine mismanagement in low-income countries is found in Myanmar. For the Rohingya people, who have been displaced under persecution from the Myanmar military, there has been no plan from the Burmese government to offer them vaccination. Many Rohingya muslims reside in densely-packed camps in Rakhine state, with 100 thousand people housed in Sittwe alone, with resources being depleted for those who remain in villages. Although many people are getting sick, and some older people have died, the Rohingya people are not considered a priority group for vaccination. They still suffer restrictions, such as the inability to go to the hospital to get COVID-19 tests. Many are also distrustful of the healthcare system in Myanmar. For the one million Rohingya refugees residing in camps in Bangladesh, vaccinations have only begun in mid-August.
Since 2020, the UN agencies Unicef and WHO have begun the Covax scheme for low-income countries to receive COVID-19 vaccines, with the costs being subsidised by higher-income countries. Covax tries to ensure that these countries can make vaccines accessible for their population, especially priority groups such as healthcare workers and the elderly. Through Covax, over 303 billion doses of the vaccine have already been delivered to 142 countries. However, the scheme is still flawed; the delivery of vaccines is slow and often obstructed due to poor medical infrastructure in target countries, and vaccine hesitancy means that the actual administration of vaccines is even lower. With only a small portion of promised vaccines arriving but also expiring within days of arrival, there is an urge for an accelerated vaccine donation plan.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the inequity of healthcare access for minority groups and less-developed countries has been greatly exacerbated. Mistrust of the healthcare system and unequal distribution of vaccines decreases vaccine uptake for those who are most susceptible to the virus, and hinders the progress towards global immunity. We must urge developed countries to keep their word to bring timely donations to lower-income countries, and to reduce vaccine hesitancy among minority groups by spreading inclusive, tailored information, increasing confidence and ease of access to vaccinations.