In October 2020, areas such as Surrey, B.C. and Brampton, Ont., with a high immigrant population, were scapegoated and targeted by multiple media outlets for the sudden increase in COVID cases.
However, despite these high numbers, these same communities aren’t being prioritized during vaccine rollout, despite the increase in cases.
Although the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is now well-underway in Canada, many have pointed out that it has been inequitable, by creating disparities within marginalized groups, and leaving many communities with a large working class population having to wait longer to receive the vaccine.
Over the past weekend, media news outlets reported “relief and excitement” of some regarding the opening of mass vaccination clinics in a popular ski resort, Whistler B.C., by the government.
At the same time, despite the fact that Surrey has had steadily high rates of transmission throughout the pandemic, the government has made no efforts to implement mass vaccination in Surrey on the same scale as they did in Whistler.
Currently, Surrey is a COVID hot spot with the highest number of cases we have seen thus far, at 1573 active cases. Surrey also has a large working class population, with many frontline workers who work high risk jobs.
Dr. Birinder Narang, a practising family physician in Burnaby, B.C., stated that Public Health officials of Canada, in trying to ensure equitable access by age and region, have neglected to do so based on diversity that exists in different regions, putting marginalized groups at a significantly higher risk.
Although race-based data in B.C. is not readily available, advocates have said that racialized communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. This data would also point to which communities need support, and where vaccines should be distributed based on hot spots that are likely linked to these factors, and creating inequity.
The government recently announced that those who are 40+ in hot spot communities will be receiving vaccines based on these high numbers, including some communities in Surrey.
This information would help the marginalized communities mentioned by Narang receive vaccines, and could potentially help government’s mitigate the spread among these populations that are at risk.
On a global scale, despite efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines, the vaccine rollout around the world continues to create disparities among low and high income countries.
While many high income countries are on track with their vaccine rollout program, many low income countries do not have the sufficient resources to start their vaccination program.
Currently, high income countries make up about 20% of the global population, but have secured more than half of the vaccine supply.
This is because countries are competing against one another to be the first to inoculate their populations, which can also be known as vaccine nationalism.
Vaccine nationalism can be problematic for two reasons:
- The hoarding of vaccines by wealthy countries has become a major hurdle for impoverished countries due to vaccine nationalism. Developing nations are not being prioritized in the vaccine rollout, creating a wider gap in health.
- If countries continue to hoard vaccines, this will prolong the pandemic, indicating no end date in sight.
If vaccine nationalism continues, it will further perpetuate the long history of wealthy countries at the expense of low income countries.
A long term, effective solution must ensure equitable access to vaccines among all populations, regardless of socioeconomic status or race, and this only starts with understanding the differential impact of socioeconomic status and income, on health status, and how race plays into this.
Equitable access to vaccines also requires us to acknowledge systemic racism and the way it contributes to social determinants of health. We then need our government officials to take a data-based approach, so that these communities don’t have to pay the price.
About the author: Navneet holds a bachelor’s degree focused in Health Science - Population and Quantitative Studies from Simon Fraser University, cultivating a passion for health promotion, policy and social justice. She has recently found a passion in writing about pop-culture, mental health and living in a South Asian diaspora. Her passion for feminism, diversity and progress lights a fire beneath everything she does. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, travelling and baking.
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