At long last, my state of Missouri feels some relief as all immunization tiers are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and more local vaccination appointments become available. No one thought vaccine rollout would be easy. Nor did Americans think it would be this hard. We watched Texans struggle when a February storm disrupted food, water, heat, and shipments of vials. I became an online vaccine hunter for friends and family, navigating a system that had city-dwellers traveling for hours, desperate to find the vaccine.
Such hardships reminded me of families in low-income countries who regularly lack healthy food, clean water, and access to health resources. I’ve visited rural Ugandan communities where mothers walk for miles carrying infants for vaccines. At least when St. Louisans drove to Potosi, they went in cars.
We’re now entering a new pandemic phase with greater freedom and less worry. Yet we should remember the desperation we felt when we scrambled for shots. It’s likely that vulnerable people in low-income countries will feel it for years to come.
Portia Nartey, a Washington University student from Ghana, says her family is aware Ghana doesn’t have the means to create a vaccine. They are resigned to waiting. Yet they have faith that the U.S. will help. Portia shared, “Some think that rich countries will not care about developing countries until they have vaccinated all their citizens. As a result, we are praying for them to quickly vaccinate their people and once that is done, we know they will send some vaccines to developing countries like Ghana.”
My cousin Rachel Stampfli lives in the Caribbean where my father grew up, Trinidad & Tobago. Rachel admitted there is a general feeling of having lower status. But Trinidadians worry that larger countries with uncontained spread, like the U.S., could easily reinfect the world through international travel, so they will wait their turn. In other words, she’s eager for me to come visit, but not until she knows I won’t bring COVID-19 to her island.
COVAX Can Help
There is a way to combat global vaccine inequity. COVAX, formally known as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, is an initiative dedicated to equitable vaccine access. It accelerates the development, manufacture, and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for every country in the world with a goal to deliver at least two billion doses by the end of 2021. Without donor nation participation in COVAX, the virus will continue to mutate in unprotected communities and extend the life of the pandemic.
The very first COVAX vaccines shipped out on February 24 happened to go to Portia’s home country of Ghana to protect health workers and high-risk individuals. So far, COVAX has delivered over 38 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to over 100 countries.
Unfortunately, Rachel found out on March 18 that Trinidad & Tobago’s COVAX delivery was delayed. Her reaction looked exactly like Facebook posts from my fellow local moms when she wrote, “We have no idea when we will get it. It sucks. We need to get back to some semblance of normal and the kids need to be back in school.” The good news is that by March 30 they received a small shipment of 33,600 of vaccines for the 1.2 million citizens and over 18,000 refugees on the islands. It’s a start.
Action from Citizens
Even when it’s safe for those of us living in wealthy nations to gather again, let’s not forget how frustrated we felt. Remember what life was like when travel, school, hugs, and all sorts of activities were risky. We can turn negative memories into positive action in solidarity with people still waiting.
Americans can contact President Biden with this petition from the ONE Campaign to urge him to support donating excess American COVID-19 doses to COVAX. Canadians can do the same for their country. Our leaders should also do all they can to simplify intellectual property rights and remove measures that restrict or slow vaccine exports.
Meanwhile, Cousin Rachel is settled in for what she calls the Great Wait. She told me, “Until then Trinidad & Tobago’s borders remain closed, only receiving nationals locked out since March . We’ll just continue to mask-up and absorb more alcohol through our hands than from our glasses.”
Cynthia Changyit Levin is a mother, advocate, speaker, and author of the upcoming book “From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started.” A rare breed of non-partisan activist who works across a variety of issues, she coaches volunteers of all ages to build productive relationships with members of Congress. She advocated side-by-side with her two children from their toddler to teen years and crafted a new approach to advocacy based upon her strengths as a mother. Cynthia’s writing and work have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, the Washington Post, and many other national and regional publications. She received the 2021 Cameron Duncan Media Award from RESULTS Educational Fund for her citizen journalism on poverty issues. When she’s not changing the world, Cynthia is usually curled up reading sci-fi/fantasy novels or comic books in which someone else is saving the world.
As we rejoiced in the “Guilty on all charges” verdict of Derek Chauvin, 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant had just been murdered by a white police officer in Columbus, Ohio. The use of a taser would have been effective in stopping Ma’Khia. It would have given the police officers the opportunity to form a clearer picture of what was going on.
Why is it that a trained police officer’s first reaction to a scene involving people of color is to shoot first and ask questions later? Violence is the first thing that seems to come to their minds. How many more lives must we lose to the people who have sworn to protect and serve us? Or have those police officers only sworn to protect and serve people who look like them?
I am not saying that all cops are bad, but more and more I am starting to think about their motives. In April of this year, 20-year-old Duante Wright was murdered by a female police officer outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, after being stopped for possible expired tags. The police officer, Kim Porter of the Brooklyn Center Police Department in Minnesota, reported that she thought she had her taser out. How can a 26-year veteran of the police make such a costly mistake?
As I sit here writing this, tears flowing, I am struggling with being happy, angry, and afraid.
Happy, because even though George Floyd’s life can never be restored, the conviction of his murderer can bring some peace to his soul and his family. I want to believe that this is a positive sign that police officers will now be held accountable for their actions when they discharge their weapons.
Angry because Black lives are still being taken at the hands of police officers.
Afraid that we will lose more Black lives before something is truly set in place to stop these murders.
How is this not a crisis? Why are we not training officers to handle situations better, without defaulting to violence? Why are Black people like Ma’Khia Bryant and Duante Wright met with bullets? If the roles were reversed – if Black police officers were routinely shooting and killing white civilians – would society not have already come up with better alternatives?
Happy, Angry, Afraid.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Dr. Denetria James-Brooks.
World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good.
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In May of 2020, the world was forced to slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After Memorial Day, people from around the world watched as George Floyd took his last breath while former Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. For nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, we watched a man’s soul leave his body. We watched as his life was taken. We listened to him call for his Momma. People of all skin colors – from black, brown, gold, and white; from suburban moms to urban fathers; from politicians to clergy – took to the streets to protest this injustice which was not new to the Black community.
Two days ago, as I sat in my car looking at an alert that the verdict would be announced, I went through a series of emotions. I felt angry, sad, and disappointed before even knowing the outcome. Had the justice system failed us again? I felt physically ill not knowing if this man who so casually knelt on another human’s neck with his hands in his pockets would be held accountable, or if he would be allowed to go home and sleep in his own bed while George Floyd sleeps in his eternal rest. Would accountability finally occur in one of these cases?
A jury of Derek Chauvin’s peers took a little over ten hours to decide what we visually knew. Until the last of the verdicts was read, I did not realize I had been holding my breath. I exhaled for what seemed like the first time, yet there was no relief. Just minutes before the verdict was read, a fifteen-year-old Black girl in Ohio was gunned down by an officer.
The cycle continues.
Accountability in one case does not provide accountability in others. Sandra Bland’s family still wonders what transpired in her cell. Tamir Rice is frozen in time as a twelve-year-old child while his killer walks free. Officers who commit crimes against Black and brown people can often jump from city to city and state to state to find jobs, and their bad deeds are covered by unions who believe that Blue Lives Matter and they deserve more protection than the average American.
A surgeon, nurse, or any other health professional who voluntarily takes a life is held accountable. I do not fear seeing my doctor, seeing a nurse, but I fear seeing blue lights in my rear view mirror. I fear letting my six-foot-tall autistic son walk fifty feet to our mailbox. My son has been deemed a threat since he was born because of the color of his skin. I fear letting him just walk around in our front or back yard and having an overzealous neighbor call the police on the brown person lurking in his own yard.
In nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, my life could be over. Yesterday’s verdict does not bring George Floyd back. Chauvin’s attorney attempted to use the big Black guy defense. But the only thing we saw was a Black man being ripped from his family, his life placed under a microscope for the world to judge.
The verdict has been read, but he is still gone. I did not know Mr. Floyd, but in his cry for his Momma, I could hear my son’s voice and I could not reach him. One person was held accountable, but the whole system needs to go on trial now to fix what is broken.