Health News Coronavirus The World

The Covid-19 vaccine patent divide is yet another example of hinderance from the Global North countries

If there’s any word to describe COVID-19, it’s “unpredictable.”

It’s like a hydra; cut off one head and two more grow back. Every time researchers think they’ve got it figured out, we get new variants each with their own symptoms and varying severity. 

With the multiple vaccines having been created by different countries, there’s a small glimmer of hope for the world to break free from the hold this virus has on us, physically and mentally. 

Research indicates that the vaccines are 90% effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and one dose of a vaccine can halve transmission among people. While it’s easy to be hyper focused on the 10% chance that you could still fall sick, it’s quite literally the best shot at staying safe.

India is currently going through a horrible second wave of COVID-19, where the last recorded tally was 403,405 cases on the 8th of May. Various cities are experiencing a severe shortage of oxygen supplies and hospital beds, showing a harrowing picture of patients collapsing and even dying in the streets with their loved ones are helplessly looking for anything that could save them.

However, despite knowing the extent of what is happening in India and having the means to help, the US has placed a ban on the export of materials that could help Indian pharmaceuticals to create their own supply of vaccines. Denying India’s request to lift the ban, spokesperson Ned Price said that the “needs of the Americans should be looked at first.

So much for celebrating having a vice president with South Asian roots.

Maya Rudolph's Best Kamala Harris Sketches On SNL
[Image Description: a gif of Maya Rudolph playing Kamala Harris sipping on a drink while wearing sunglasses] Source: Buzzfeed
The ban and the US’ refusal to lift it had several people pointing out the disparaging patent divide for COVID-19 vaccine materials among countries all around the world, with particular reference to this map:

How the US can solve the global vaccine shortfall – Progressive Policy Institute
[Image Description: a world map that shows which countries support (coloured yellow), oppose (coloured pink), and are undecided (coloured blue) on the patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccine materials] Source: Progressive Policy Institute
Having the patent would allow the countries’ local drugmakers to manufacture vaccines for themselves, provided they have the materials. As you can see in this map, the countries that oppose the patent waiver are those who are part of the Global North (the richest and most industrialised countries in the world), including the US, Japan, Australia, and Europe. 

The countries that support the patent waiver are mostly countries in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and parts of South America. Countries that are generally part of the Global South (normally known as the Third World countries).

What Is The Global South? - WorldAtlas
[Image Description: a graphic showing the Global North countries as a happy figure standing upright, and the Global South countries as a distressed figure hanging on] Source: World Atlas
Even China, which has developed its own vaccine Sinopharm, stands in support of the patent waver. The country has even stepped in to provide its vaccine rollout to India in its time of need.

Several people took to social media to point out this disparity between the privileged and the under-privileged.

This isn’t the first time the Global South has had to suffer the worst of an ongoing situation; the North has been known to continuously profit off of resources that the South has, while preventing any form of economic development to happen in the latter. In what is known as Dependency, the North keeps the South dependent on its finances and economic prowess while at the same time, keeping them from their own personal development. 

The scales will always be tipped in the North’s favour without ever achieving balance, and has been so long after the South was decolonised.

By obstructing the patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccine materials and banning their export, countries like the US are preventing countries like India from developing their own vaccines that would enable them to break free from their respective waves of the pandemic. 

Big Pharma has stated that they are doing this to prevent China and Russia (US’ global rivals) from exploiting platforms that could be used for other vaccines.

So basically, they’re saying lifting the ban could lead to more lives being saved. Mass recovery would mean the countries would no longer need US’ and other Global North countries’ support to get by. The US wouldn’t want that now, would it.

With the US, Japan, Australia and European countries moving up with their respective vaccine rollouts and gradually easing their lockdown restrictions, India and other countries in the global South are left in turmoil. At this rate, COVID-19 could become another disease that is ravaging Third World countries while the rest stay safe and vaccinated against it.

Disappointed but not surprised to see that hierarchy and profit triumph humanity when it comes to global health.


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Health News Coronavirus Europe The World

Clapping has become the UK government’s new and absurd way to deal with national crisises

It’s no secret that the pandemic has been unprecedented. It has had an impact on every aspect of our lives and in some ways, completely changed the way we behave. Across the globe, governments have responded in extremely different ways. Islands like New Zealand and Australia immediately closed their borders. Countries in mainland Europe followed suit, however the long-term upkeep has been difficult.

As an island, I expected the UK to follow suit and close its borders. You cannot access the UK unless you sail or fly so it didn’t seem like an unreasonable response, however, the government is incompetent. And so, here we are one year on from the first cases detected in the UK and our NHS (National Health Service) is struggling, infection rates are rising, and we are in and out of lockdowns more than high schoolers in relationships.

The NHS was implemented after the Second World War to provide free healthcare to British and later EU citizens. To say it has been a lifesaver would not be giving it enough credit. So many of us in the UK would not be here without the NHS – and a future without it seems unimaginable.

So, how does the government deal with such a crucial institution during the time of a pandemic? Increase its funds? No. By clapping.

During the years before the pandemic, the Conservative government systematically cut funding to both the NHS and its workers. By the time the pandemic hit, the system was not in a place where it was able to cope with the increasing demand.

Junior doctors had been striking against increased hours without higher pay and the government refused to grant them better working conditions. Last March, both the NHS and the government put out the call asking for retired staff to come back to help- and they did en masse.

In appreciation, the government raised the salary of career politicians and began clapping weekly to show some gratitude to medical practitioners. The Covid cases, especially in the North of England, were rising steadily with well over 2,000,000 cases. The reproductive rate in the North of England had reached 1.5 – yet the government did not act.

It reached such a low point that a 100-year-old man, Sir Captain Tom Moore, an otherwise ordinary citizen who had fought in the Second World War, walked around his garden over the Summer as a means to raise money for the NHS. His goal was to raise £1000 by his 100th birthday, yet on the morning of his birthday, it was reported that he had raised well over £30 million. The NHS is not a charity, it does not depend on the donations of the public to keep going. The fact that a regular citizen felt compelled to raise money in this manner is awful. The work done by Sir Captain Tom Moore was amazing and he should be commended for it but it should not have been needed.

A few days ago, Sir Captain Tom Moore died from Covid-19; and in true British fashion, the government organized a national clap for him. Sir Tom was born prior to the creation of the NHS and had seen the suffering of a country without a national healthcare system firsthand. It is disrespectful to his memory that the UK government chose performative appreciation over actually helping the NHS in his memory.

The NHS is probably one of the only things Britain has to be proud of. The lack of care by the Government for the people who are the most vulnerable is pathetic. To suggest that the way to show appreciation is through clapping is insulting. So many frontline workers have put their lives on the line and haven’t received anything from the Government. The pandemic has near enough crippled the UK, at the time of writing, there were over 3,911,573 cases of COVID-19. With the 3rd lockdown in force, many self-employed and small business owners are struggling to provide for their families yet the Government are more interested in clapping than bringing an end to the pandemic.

The clapping needs to stop, and the Government needs to act.


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Coronavirus Race Science Now + Beyond

How the US government can encourage the Black community to trust the COVID-19 vaccine

It’s now been almost a year since the pandemic hit the US, and it has been well documented that the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting Black Americans. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black people are almost 4 times as likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications and almost 3 times more likely to succumb in severe cases. Considering the harm the Black community has endured throughout the course of the pandemic, Black people should ideally be hopeful at the announcement of a vaccine, as it would mark a possible end to the widespread suffering.

In December, a vaccine was approved in the United Kingdom, and the UK government began slowly testing the vaccine on its citizens. Correspondingly, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had also approved Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, shortly after, which planned to enable millions of highly vulnerable Americans to receive emergency vaccinations within a few days. For some, vaccination approvals and distributions in the US, UK, and Canada was good news as it possibly signals some kind of return to normalcy in the future. However, vaccine rollout in America has been rather unsuccessful. The US federal government left decisions up to each state regarding how vaccine distributions would be handled, but many states are not equipped with the resources needed to be effective in medically treating their citizens.

On the other hand, many Black Americans have openly expressed skepticism on social media regarding whether they trust the newly developed COVID vaccine. Notably, these conversations of doubt in the vaccine were sparked after Letitia Wright’s exit from Twitter in December after she shared a conspiracy video attempting to “debunk” the legitimacy of the COVID-19 vaccine as well as Tiffany Haddish spreading misinformation about the vaccine recently on a social media app called Clubhouse.

Many people have rightfully criticized Wright’s and Haddish’s misuse of their large social media platforms in sharing misleading videos or information about the vaccine, as the two are seemingly encouraging their followers to mistrust science. At the same time, others empathized with the two women’s flawed logic, highlighting the need to finally address whatever skepticism Black people have towards the vaccine, why Black people are even skeptical, to begin with, and what can be done to ensure the Black community can eventually trust the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccine.

many Black people’s skepticism in the vaccine is justified given what we’ve endured at the hands of white governments.

As a response to people’s skepticism, public figures like Dr. Fauci and former president Obama pledged to take the vaccine in hopes the American populace could be confident in the government’s efforts toward combatting COVID. However, there must be more specific ways the US government can begin to ease distrust of science and medicine within the Black community, who are already an at-risk demographic, as a result of longtime systematic mistreatment towards our community; starting with an acknowledgment of the inherent and historical anti-Blackness within the American healthcare system.

For example, medical racism has proved to have life-threatening consequences for many of us, especially for Black women. The Black community has historically been used as test subjects without our consent, been experimented on, and experienced exploitation within the medical industry to further progress for vaccinations and other disease control methods. 

I don’t believe Black people are wrong to distrust science or medicine; in fact, I believe many Black people’s skepticism in the vaccine is justified given what we’ve endured at the hands of white governments. However, I also believe spreading misinformation is unethical. There are more effective ways we can have conversations surrounding science, medicine, and the trust-ability of white governments in a way that is not harmful. We can and should acknowledge the abuse our community has suffered, hold our individual beliefs (within good reason), and question the efforts or intentions of historically oppressive governments. But, at the same time, we should use logic when deciding if and when something is potentially harmful or not. 

In the same ways we can question our government’s intentions, we can also conduct research utilizing trusted and fact-checked sources and research the individuals who are confidently and publicly backing the COVID-19 vaccination. 

A vaccine announcement doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.

Furthermore, governments must prioritize restoring trust within the Black community to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine has a chance of effectiveness. The American Medical Association (AMA) suggests that “(1) All elected officials affirm evidence-based science and factual data at every turn. (2) The media, including social media platforms, to consistently convey factual information from credible sources while challenging and rejecting misinformation.”

If there is consistency and solidarity amongst American government officials in expressing the severity of this virus without perpetuating right-wing or religious conspiracy theories, it might encourage the more vulnerable communities to trust government-backed COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, the medical community and prominent figures in science and medicine should specifically acknowledge and validate Black people’s skepticism. There needs to be an earnest acknowledgment that governments have failed the Black community and an expression of commitment towards restoring any lost trust going forward.

Notably, a vaccine announcement doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. Rather, a vaccine is just the first step toward combating the coronavirus. In addition, while waiting for the vaccine to be distributed, whether you plan on taking the vaccine or not, we can do our individual responsibility of wearing a mask, social distancing, and continuing to wash our hands. While it’s true that there have been systemic failures on behalf of many of our governments, we can also do our part while this pandemic persists by staying on top of coronavirus updates as well as spreading awareness and accurate, research-backed information within our own communities.

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Editor's Picks Coronavirus Europe The World

What you need to know about the new COVID-19 strain detected in the UK

The word is shutting off the UK, and it’s not because of Brexit, but something much scarier: a new strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the country and announced a tightening of COVID-19 restrictions for the Christmas period, scratching the previously announced break for the holiday period. The announced measures were surprisingly harsh, creating a new “Tier 4” for London and many parts of the South-East of the country, which will not allow its inhabitants to mix with other households for the holidays. However, the sudden U-turn of the UK government, who had stated only three days prior that it would be “inhumane to cancel Christmas” was not the thing that shocked the country. Rather, the reason for panic has been the identification of a new variant of COVID-19 which is 70% more contagious.

It is a known fact that viruses mutate. Usually, these new variants die-out, as they tend to be weaker than the original virus. Sometimes they continue to spread with very similar characteristics, being very difficult to distinguish from the original strain. Very rarely, they become more aggressive.

Although new mutations of COVID-19 have been identified since last April, none of them were considered to be more concerning than the original version of the virus, neither did they require different treatments or medications.  Last month, the Danish government culled millions of mink who carried a COVID-19 mutation, and in October, it was suggested that a coronavirus variant originating in Spanish farm workers was spreading rapidly through Europe. However, the new variant present in the UK seems to be different, and more concerning.

According to the Prime Minister, the new variant of COVID-19, VUI-202012/01 is 70% more transmissible than the previous versions of the virus and causes people to have a much larger viral load when they get the disease. This is because of a series of 23 mutations that have been identified in the pathogen’s genetic coding, many of which are associated with the “spike” protein, the part of the virus responsible for binding to human cells.

“As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modelling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the south-east,” the UK government’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, stated. “The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) now considers that the new strain can spread more quickly. We have alerted the World Health Organization and are continuing to analyze the available data to improve our understanding.”

[Image description: A graph of the increased number of cases in England from March to December 2020] Via the UK government website.
[Image description: A graph of the increased number of cases in England from March to December 2020] Via the UK government website.
This higher spreading rate is the cause of the increased COVID-19 numbers in the UK, particularly around the London area. Between November 29th and December 13th, the rate of coronavirus infections in the UK has increased by 50%. As of last Sunday (December 20th), just over 1,100 COVID-19 cases with the new variant have been identified. The UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new strain is “out of control”, admitting that this is “an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year”. 

However, let’s not panic just yet.

Current medical studies have shown no evidence than the new variant is more deadly than the original virus, or that the vaccines that are currently being administered to millions across the globe are less effective towards it. Although most vaccines do target this “spike” protein, the virus would need to mutate very significantly in order to make the vaccine ineffective, said Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser.

While more studies are being conducted to confirm these affirmations, many countries have imposed strict border controls or even banned flights from the UK, in an attempt to control the spread of this new variant. As we speak, the European Union is holding an emergency meeting to decide on a coordinated response to control the spread of the virus. At the same time, Boris Johnson will chair an emergency COBRA meeting to discuss the UK being cut off from Europe. In addition to freedom of movement, the delivery of necessary goods such as food is of great concern to the British administration.

[Image description: A map of the countries which have banned flights from the UK since the announcement of the new COVID-19 strain, including Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, Iran and Saudi Arabia] Via Election Maps UK.
[Image description: A map of the countries which have banned flights from the UK since the announcement of the new COVID-19 strain, including Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, Iran and Saudi Arabia] Via Election Maps UK.
This avalanche of terrible news is the last straw for many of us, who have spent the last few weeks hoping for a calm Christmas week, where all the issues threatening the future of the UK such as Brexit and the pandemic, could be put to the side. After all, let’s not forget that the UK is set to leave the EU on January 1st and there still isn’t a deal that regulates how it will happen and who or what will be allowed to cross the border.

As an immigrant who has made the United Kingdom my home for the last 5 years, I am terrified of the situation that the country is currently facing. Nonetheless, while we wait for scientists and policy experts to examine the characteristics of the new strain of COVID-19 and (hopefully) make a decision on Brexit and freedom of movement, let’s remember to be responsible. Yes, this Christmas will be different, and yes, this new strain is scary, but all we can go at the moment is make sure we keep ourselves healthy, mentally and emotionally, and that we follow the rules set by the experts. We don’t know much about VUI-202012/01 but we know it’s transmitted the same way as COVID-19.

So, this holiday season, avoid travelling, wear a mask, and wash your hands. Be safe, and turn off the TV if you have to.

A holiday guide for the COVID-19 pandemic



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World News Health News Coronavirus Science The World

Here is everything we know about the much-awaited COVID-19 vaccine

Other than our constant question as to when the world would get rid of the pandemic, one question that keeps crossing everyone’s mind is when the COVID-19 vaccine will be available.

The answer is not as simple as giving a date for the availability of the vaccine. Developing a vaccine is not a day’s job or cannot be developed overnight with a magic spell. Developing a vaccine is also not one person or one company’s job. It involves a lot of testing and an improvement phase, before the vaccine actually makes it to the market for people to use.

As of November 2020, more than 150 COVID-19 vaccines have made it to the development cut around the world with high hopes to be able to bring THE ONE to the market. Countries across the globe, including the US, India, and UK to name a few have initiated campaigns and several efforts to help make the development of such a vaccine possible.

The U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed initiative has pledged $10 billion and aims to develop and deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by January 2021. The project is a partnership among components of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense to help develop, make, and distribute millions of vaccine doses for COVID-19 as quickly as possible.

However, getting a vaccine made is not a task that can be achieved overnight. In usual circumstances, it takes about 15 years for a vaccine to actually make it to the market while being available for people to make use of it. There is a whole lot of trial and approval procedure involved before the testing phase. The testing procedure is a lengthy process in itself that can take up to years before the final product gets approval.

On November 23, AstraZeneca announced interim results from two of its phase three clinical trials being conducted on the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. The one trial that was conducted in the UK showed that the vaccine was 90% effective in making sure that people are protected from the virus, only by getting half a dose of the formula which will be followed by the other half a month later. However, in an experiment conducted in Brazil in the second phase of the trial, the effectiveness of the vaccine dropped to 62%. As per the staff working on the development of this vaccine, the formula can be used under an emergency use listing by the WHO that plans to distribute the vaccine to underdeveloped countries. Around three billion doses of this vaccine by AstraZeneca is expected to be produced in 2021.

On November 20, Pfizer and BioNTech released a statement by saying that they were filing an emergency authorization from the FDA. The statement came just two days after having completed their three phase trials of the vaccine. According to the pharmaceuticals, they have met their targeted outcomes in developing a vaccine for the virus. According to their trials, the vaccine in scrutiny showed 95% effectiveness in helping recover serious COVID-19 cases. There has been a vaccine delivery pilot program launched under the supervision of Pfizer in four US states, New Mexico, Texas, Tennessee, and Rhode Island, to help with the deployment process of the vaccine as soon as possible. However on December 2, the UK became the first country in the world to approve the vaccine for widespread use, with getting 40 million doses in due course. On December 8, a 90 year old woman, Margaret Keenan became the first COVID-19 affected patient to receive the vaccine at the University Hospital in Coventry.

As per the FDA, if and when the first vaccine gets an approval to be available in the markets, there will be a limited supply of available, especially in the US. This obviously means that not everyone, even in the four states listed above will be able to have complete access to it. Getting access to the vaccine also highly depends on which countries and communities groups are at more risk from the virus. Age, for instance, is COVID-19’s biggest enemy.

This is one of the reasons why the FDA had started investing in select vaccine manufacturers external icon to be able to increase the ability of the distribution of the much-awaited vaccine. The idea is to increase the supply so that most demands are met. With more companies developing the vaccine and getting through with the three-stage trial process, this is possible.

Trials play a huge role in getting the vaccine approved by the regulators which should not be avoided at any cost. There is still limited research to prove the actual outcomes of the vaccine that has passed the test. According to the World Health Organization’s recent data, at least 70% of the entire world’s population must be immune to help get rid of this pandemic.


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LGBTQIA+ History Coronavirus The World

50 years later, the legacy of Pride lives on

The New York City Pride parade has been cancelled for the first time since its origin 50 years ago. In-person events that were scheduled to take place June 14-28, 2020 are in the process of being reimagined virtually as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pride is a staple in New York City, as it has been since the Stonewall Riots prompted a revolution in June of 1969. The fight for gay-rights as we know it was born and catalyzed here. America in the 1960’s, and in the decades that came before it, was not at all welcoming for those in LGBTQIA+ community. In New York, any inclination of sexual activity between people of the same sex in public was considered illegal. That is, hand holding, kissing, or even dancing. This antiquated and ridiculous law was not overturned until 1980 when the People v. Ronald Onofre case was decided. 

These times were also riddled with discrimination and a series of raids among other forms of abuse on prominent gay bars and clubs in Greenwich village. Such spaces were some of the only places where members of the community could seek refuge and were finally able to express themselves openly without worry. Nonetheless, police brutality on the basis of sexual orientation and just plain bigotry was awfully common during these raids.  

On the night of June 28, 1969 obvious tensions arose between the two groups, and the patrons bravely decided to fight back against the police at the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar that was one of the few of its kind that opened its doors to drag queens. Notably, the first bottle of the uprising, which lasted six whole days, was thrown by a Black transgender woman, Marsha P. Johnson. The protesters were met time and time again with tear-gas and physical altercations with the police, but they persisted. Those in the street are said to have been singing slogans similar to the ones that we hear today like “gay power” and “we shall overcome.” 

It would be an injustice to ignore the contributions of the Black community to this iconic moment that started a resistance.

This moment sparked the beginning of a modern resistance that is beautifully laced with love and versatility. 

It would be an injustice, however, to ignore the coincidences of this past that align with the current civil rights demonstrations happening across the world, declaring defiantly that Black lives matter. Both movements continue to feature a spotlight on recognizing basic human rights while also condemning police practices that terrorize the communities they are meant “to serve and protect.” So much of American history is patterned with this same struggle, consistency, and perseverance. Not to mention that it was, in fact, Black women who spearheaded this revolution 51 years ago, and 51 years later Black women are again at the forefront of a movement seeking to eradicate systemic inequality. We must not let this go unnoticed.

The year after what has come to be known as the Stonewall riots, June of 1970, marked the first ever Pride parade in New York City. Though it took a long time to come, the LGBTQIA+ community has certainly overcome much of the hate and marginalization that has been thrown its way. But, they’re still fighting. To this day, new non-discrimination protections are being fought for and passed all because of their constant effort and strength. 

Since then, New York City and its Pride parade has been a proven safe-haven for vulnerable and battered communities alike. It is a time for people to come together and celebrate themselves as phoenixes who have risen way above the ashes while also acknowledging the slashed history that they are eternally attached to. 

Just last year, New York City hosted world WorldPride and some 2 million people were in attendance. This in and of itself is a testament to the impact that the revolution has had, and continues to have, all over the world. Such ever-clear and unrelenting perseverance is nothing less of an inspiration. 

Today, as the coronavirus runs its raging course throughout the United States, New York City has been noticeably hit the hardest. With nearly 212,000 confirmed cases and over 20,000 deaths thus far in the City alone, New Yorkers are being urged to remain full of the hope and drive that makes us so thick-skinned in the first place. But, this is not an easy feat, especially given the turmoil that seems to be slowly encapsulating every bit of our daily lives. Once again, we have set out in a movement that looks to challenge history and change it for good. For the LGBTQIA+ community, that anxiety is heightened tremendously. 

The absence of the iconic Pride parade will certainly have a dramatic financial impact on the people and businesses that have come to rely on it. Not to mention the mental toll that will surely come along without a break from mobilizing, resource, or strategy efforts concerning the ongoing, and seemingly never-ending, fight for equal rights. It is certainly an all-hands-on-deck sort of thing. This fight is fought every single day, with the smallest actions sometimes making the most noise, and none of it should go unnoticed. 

The contributions that the LGBTQIA+ community has made to both the City and to the greater struggle for equality are undeniable. So, the decision to cancel Pride this year was not easy. But, it was definitely necessary. However, just because the pandemic prevents us from physically coming together this year, it does not mean that the spirit of Pride in New York City won’t be felt just the same.

An online Global Pride will be broadcasted for 24-hours straight on June 27, starting in the east and moving west. Each local or participating pride chapter is hoped to have an allotment of 15-minutes of airtime each, depending on individual time zones, for performances and speeches by grand marshals. This is a community that has always come together in the face of adversity and this year is no different. My wish is for this to be yet another example of the LGBTQIA+ communities resilience that should be honored and remembered, especially in a context of human rights.

Coronavirus Policy Inequality

Anti-vaxxers, COVID-19 has a lot to show you. Please look closely.

“If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying” 

You’ve probably seen the viral video where spring-breaker Brady Sluder says this. His peers on the beach expressed similar sentiments: that the coronavirus crisis is overblown and the government should not stop people from having fun.

COVID-19 emerged in a food market in China last year and quickly spread across the world. Deaths continue to rise and the novel coronavirus has been declared a global health emergency. At the time of this article’s writing, there are nearly 1.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world and the White House predicts anywhere between 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the US from the disease in total.

After facing intense backlash online, Sluder has apologized for the way he behaved in the video, made it clear that he understands the responsibility to protect others, and cautioned everyone to follow social distancing protocols.

But his original sentiments are far from solitary; during the initial stages of the outbreak in America, people organised ‘coronavirus parties’, coughed in grocery stores as a prank, and recorded videos of themselves licking things for an Instagram challenge. Religious gatherings in defiance of common sense distancing measures also continued: a Church congregation in South Korea caused an epidemic in the country, and a religious convention in Pakistan spread the disease all over the country.  

This type of carelessness reminds me of another group of people who put public health at risk by dismissing the concerns and advice of experts: anti-vaxxers.

Because of a growing distrust in vaccines, diseases that were thought to be nearly eradicated in the first world are making a comeback. In 2014, measles reached a 20-year high in the United States with 90% of cases among those who were not vaccinated or whose vaccination status was unknown. Vaccine-preventable diseases like pertussis have re-appeared in areas with low vaccination rates. And of the many children who died from the flu in the US in 2013, 90% were not vaccinated

Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the debate around vaccinations cause us to confront questions of public responsibility. 

Like the college students partying on beaches, anti-vaxxers often insist that the government should not be telling them what to do. The anger around people ignoring social distancing guidelines – from government officials, overworked hospital staff, and the general public – has shown us that this shallow understanding of ‘freedom’ doesn’t always work. Most people in democratic societies will generally agree that the government shouldn’t be interfering in anyone’s personal life but when it comes to public health, the stakes are different. 

The philosophy behind herd immunity is not so different from that behind social distancing measures like lock-downs: for the health of the collective, the individual must make certain sacrifices.

I think most of us would prefer not to be poked by needles from a young age, just like most of us would prefer to be allowed to freely leave our houses. But to end the chain of transmission of a disease, certain sacrifices have to be made. 

Some people are simply not willing to make these sacrifices. Many media reports and studies have pointed out what this paper in the American Journal of Public Health notes: “higher median household income and higher percentage of White race in the population…significantly predicted higher percentages of students with PBEs [Personal Belief Exemptions (to vaccinations)]” in parts of the US. Translation: White people who are financially well-off are comparatively more likely than other swaths of the US population to be anti-vaxxers. This may be because they feel that they have the resources to invest in medication and hospital visits if their child contracts a vaccine-preventable disease.

This sort of thinking vastly underestimates the damage that many diseases that we come to think of a benign can do, but it also shows a sort of selfishness that COVID-19 has laid bare. As health professionals all over the world are telling the general population right now, you must make decisions with others in mind. It is not just you but the immunocompromised, the elderly, and the impoverished that you need to care about. 

A peevish disregard for the health of others connects the anti-science crowd that scorns both vaccination and social distancing. The Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican who once bragged that all six of his children were not vaccinated, recently faced criticism online when he tweeted a picture of himself (now deleted) in a crowded food hall and openly celebrated his flouting of social distancing guidelines.

Not all those opposed to vaccines and distrustful of guidelines from WHO and the CDC are this dude, of course. Medicine has a long history of racism and sexism that still determines the kind of care communities on the margins receive; this causes understandable caution and fear among some people. In addition, many skeptics are rightfully wary of the pharmaceutical industry and the government. But skeptics in search of the truth, and not conspiracies to support their pre-existing beliefs, also apply this distrustful attitude towards leaders of the anti-science crowd and their financial ties to alternative medicine and usually find their way back to vaccines. 

This pandemic has brought us face-to-face with what a world without vaccines could look like as well as helping us confront, in a real way, how selfish the arguments of many anti-vaxxers actually are. There are no excuses now: all of us, include anti-vaxxers, must emerge from this pandemic with a greater sense of social responsibility.