By Kabir Singh
New York City, New York
As an American, I have had the luxury to scroll through Instagram, tapping through the stories of friends who post on social media announcing that they have received their COVID-19 vaccine. As an Indian American, I sit terrified, watching my father answer phone calls from family members and friends suffering the consequences of a nightmarish COVID-19 second wave ravaging a country with the second largest population in the world.
In India, it is reported that more than 22 million people have had COVID-19 with more than 240,000 deaths and about 120 people dying every hour. However, these numbers wildly underestimate the true tally. Those who live in smaller villages or poorer parts of India are likely excluded from this count. This means that the numbers that are being reported are likely just a fraction of those who have died.
Those who die are disposed of in mass cremations, filling the streets with the smell of burnt flesh. Hospitals are so overworked that surgeries have been postponed to provide more space and doctors for those infected with COVID-19. People die while waiting for doctors to help them.
These tragedies are not limited to India: Countries like Brazil are watching COVID-19 account for one in three of their deaths. The undercounting in India also likely takes place in some African, Asian and South American countries, where COVID is “officially” said to be under control. These countries and their people need help.
The United States currently has enough vaccines that if it vaccinates its entire population above the age of 5 years, it will be sitting on a surplus of 1.084 billion vaccines by the end of 2021. This surplus will be even larger when taking into account those who are not willing to take the vaccines for medical, religious or personal reasons. All the while, India, Brazil and other countries often described as “underdeveloped” lack not only the hospital equipment and proper healthcare systems to handle the outbreak of the pandemic tearing through their population but also the vaccines.
These countries’ struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic are not happenstance. They are, in part, a direct result of colonialism, which left many of what are now deemed “third-world” countries poor and without proper infrastructure or governance. Wealthier, Western countries such as America, Great Britain and France have exploited these countries for their resources, manipulating them for their own benefit, not letting them develop organically and leaving them and their healthcare systems unprepared to handle a pandemic of this magnitude. America has a duty to help these countries not only based on morality but also based on the effect that the white, Western world has had on these countries.
That, however, is not to say colonialism is to blame for all of the failings of countries like India and Brazil. The failures of the government response and the healthcare systems have been instrumental to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and deserve a lot of the blame. However, that does not mean that the people of these countries deserve to die from a global disease for the failures of their government. We still must help.
America’s vaccine surplus means we can donate to countries who need it. Morally and ethically, it is the right thing to do. Some may argue that a surplus of vaccines will provide a safety net for Americans, as we do not know how long the efficacy of the vaccine lasts. While true, this argument fails to acknowledge that wealthy countries like America can secure more vaccines later on if need be. More importantly, in speculating about the future, it also ignores the mass graves filling up in other countries right now in the present. We cannot allow more people to die as we selfishly hoard vaccines. It takes more than donating a few million vaccines, though; it takes a concerted effort: donating vaccines, money, oxygen tanks and other medical equipment to help those most in need. We, as a country, as individuals and as organizations, must do everything we can.