Guest Blog – Vaccine Injustice: A call to action

Written by
Alice Finta
Published on
May 29, 2023

This guest blog is written by Social Connectedness Fellow, Alice Finta, and originally appeared on the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness website.

Alice (she/her) is a 2021 Social Connectedness Fellow working with SeeChange Initiative. She is currently finishing an MSc in Inequalities and Social Science at the London School of Economics. She is passionate about the intersecting inequalities that migrant and refugee communities face and the importance of intersectionality in social movement building. In the future she hopes to work in a civil society organization that supports vulnerable and marginalized groups.

“The global vaccine gap grows “more grotesque every day” – Tedros Adhanom, WHO Director-General

As of May 24, 2021, over 75% of all vaccine doses had been administered in just 10 countries. Many Global North countries have vaccinated the majority of their adult populations, and are now turning their attention to vaccinating children, despite this population being at extremely low risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus. Wales even announced that it had offered a first vaccine dose to its entire adult population by June 14. In contrast, Global South countries are still facing huge barriers to vaccinating their adult populations.

Global North countries dominate vaccine development, and many haverefused to waive patent rights, meaning that Global South countries cannot produce the vaccines themselves. Many Global North countries have also hoarded vaccine supplies. This means that even the Global South countries that can afford to buy enough doses to protect their most vulnerable populations are unable to. Canada, for example, initially purchased 10 doses for each of its citizens. Instead, Global South countries are forced to wait, with poorer nations reliant on the donations of Global North countries through strategies such as COVAX, a global scheme to provide equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.

The importance of vaccination against COVID-19 has been demonstrated by the declining rates of infections, hospitalisations, and deaths in countries such as the USA, the UK, and Canada. As a result, restrictions in these countries are being lifted, and families, friends, and communities can be together again – proof that vaccines are the key to ending the social isolation caused by the pandemic. However, in poorer countries like Honduras where, as of July 8, only an estimated 4.6% of the population is vaccinated, this social isolation will last much longer. So too will the infections and deaths caused by COVID-19.

Vaccine injustice happens within countries too

Once vaccine supplies arrive in countries, the same pre-existing social hierarchies that disadvantage some, while privileging others, also structure the inequitable distribution of vaccines. Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are some of the groups whose vulnerability to health crises like COVID-19 is compounded by adverse socioeconomic conditions which arise from legacies of settler colonialism, xenophobia, and racism. They are also less likely to be appropriately prioritised or meaningfully included in vaccination efforts. This may be due to authorities failing to provide culturally appropriate vaccination efforts, institutional corruption, and bureaucratic processes that exclude migrants and undocumented persons, and Indigenous populations.

A case in point: The Lenca community of Reitoca

The municipality of Reitoca, located in the Francisco Morazón department of southern Honduras, is currently experiencing a third wave of COVID-19 infections. Much of Reitoca’s population of 10,000 identifies as belonging to the Indigenous Lenca group. The Lenca people’s struggle against COVID-19 has been compounded by the additional challenges of poverty, food insecurity, poor healthcare infrastructure, and geographic isolation, with the nearest hospital being a 4 hour’s drive away. The Lenca community has suffered neglect and indifference from local and national institutions throughout the pandemic. Lenca activists have also received threats and violence from the military and police for resisting a government-backed project to build a hydroelectric dam on their lands in the Petacón river. This has heightened feelings of abandonment by the state in the face of COVID-19.

On June 11, it was announced that the countries assembled at the latest G7 summit would commit to providing 1 billion vaccine doses for poorer nations over the next year. Whilst this is a start, it is not enough. Communities like those in Reitoca can’t wait a year to only vaccinate their most vulnerable. We need vaccines to be equitably distributed and produced throughout the world to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the loss of life now.

Until that happens, communities that haven’t received fair access to vaccines, healthcare, or preventative measures during the pandemic will continue to face new waves of COVID-19.

What can you do?

You can urge your institution to sign the Open Covid Pledge to make COVID-related intellectual property available free of charge, sign a vaccine equity petition in your country, and support global petitions for vaccine equity, like the WHO’s.

SeeChange Initiative works closely with ECO-RE and the Organized Women of Reitoca to support community-led responses to Covid-19 in Reitoca. SeeChange is currently hosting a CommunityFirst fundraiser to remove barriers to accessing essential supplies and resources to combat COVID-19 in Reitoca. You can learn more about it here.

Photo: Cecilia Hernandez, ECO-RE

Photo: Cecilia Hernandez, ECO-RE
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