To the editor:
Any day now I expect that one or more of my health care providers will notify me that I’m eligible for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and will urge me to make an appointment. That’s what they did as soon as the original vaccine was approved for my age group, and I jumped at the chance. I was vaguely aware that the line of elders waiting for a shot at the University of Chicago vaccination center was far whiter than the area itself, but I didn’t give it a second thought at the time. For the privileged in my neighborhood, health care inequities have become the wallpaper of our lives.
But as bad as the health care disparities in my neighborhood are, they pale in comparison to global inequities. The pandemic has brought this into sharp relief. In North America, nearly all of Europe, China, and a handful of other countries more than 60% of the population is vaccinated. Few of the world’s poor countries come close to that benchmark, and the vast majority of African countries are in single digits or lower. In Congo, to take the worst case, just 0.1% of the population is vaccinated. Countries with low vaccination rates are petri dishes for new, and possibly more virulent, COVID-19 variants. (Updated maps, lists, and more are online at the Covid World Vaccination Tracker from the New York Times.)
I cannot in good conscience accept an injection that might marginally boost my immunity while billions around the world have no access to the vaccine. I am under no illusion that my individual decision will make a single dose available to those in need; that will require significantly greater actions by my government and others, and by the giant pharmaceutical companies. But as a long-time activist, I know that change depends on individual actions — many such actions. That’s why I’m making my personal decision public, and why I’m distributing this letter as widely as I can. And even if I don’t change a single mind, at least I will have acted according to my conscience.