Fatigue: The Invisible Symptom of Covid-19

Fatigue: The Invisible Symptom of Covid-19

Fatigue. 

Sure, we all feel it now and again. But recently, I seem to encounter this word more than usual. It pops up on my Instagram feed and lingers in the air from overheard conversations at work. A few weeks ago, Singapore was even cited in an article as being the most fatigued nation in the world. This article, by a UK bedding manufacturer, based this by calculating working hours, time spent in front of a screen and sleeping hours; it concluded that Singaporeans have the highest levels of fatigue. Now, while my competitive, cosmopolitan city loves coming in at number one, this is a ranking that we should be concerned about. Do we really not get enough rest? And do we even realise it? 

These days however, the fatigue I hear about and which is more detrimental, extends far beyond work hours and screen time. It’s an exhaustion that has recently set in, an exhaustion brought about by battling the Covid pandemic, an exhaustion that we cannot so easily remedy with some extra rest or time off from work. 

As I thought about the kind of fatigue that I experience (because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘how much’), I asked some friends if they felt this way and the majority of them answered with an overwhelming ‘YES!’ The most common factor was the inability to travel. We probably took spontaneity for granted, underestimated the freedom to travel, and never truly appreciated how some time spent abroad was like a magical reset button. The friends who find the county’s closed borders much harder to bear are my expat friends who have not been able to return to their home countries in close to two years as well as those with families living abroad. 

Having been an expat, I truly empathise with these friends as the trips back home are necessary to re-establish familiarity and comfort, to reconnect with your loved ones or just to be around for important life events. I appreciate that this is an essential part of an expat’s life. So it’s understandable when my expat friends commented that they were tired of waiting for big changes. There have been many smaller targets in Singapore, for example, of breaking transmission chains, controlling the cases in the foreign workers’ dormitories, or achieving a national 80% vaccination rate. But for many expat families, these provide little concrete relief or hope that they will get to go home for a visit anytime soon, and I can sympathise with their tired frustrations and impatience. 

The exhaustion could also stem from an imbalance of work and home time. Many people here have switched to a default work-from-home arrangement. While working from one’s laptop at home, it seems even harder to tear ourselves away from our work. The overlap of spaces creates an inability to properly draw a line and cease working. Just yesterday, I had to stay home and conduct lessons remotely from my dining room table. Between lessons, marking and the preparation of examination revision material, I sat in my dining room for the most part of twelve hours. 

On usual days, I try not to bring any work home when I leave the school. I feel like the extra hours I put in may have resulted from an overcompensation on my part. Since I was not in the classroom and teaching the students face-to-face, I felt like I had to make up for it by preparing extra notes. This overcompensation has been obvious among my other colleagues after each lockdown or period of home-based learning. While we comfort our own students and try to ensure that they are coping well with the changes of this pandemic, we attempt to make up for precious lost curriculum time and interaction with students, forgetting that in the end, we’re overloading ourselves and the kids. And as I say this, I will guiltily and sadly admit that in doing this over the past year and a half, I have had much less time, energy and patience for my own child. 

Emotionally, I think many people are exhausted too. We’re all tired out from trying to be positive all the time and hoping that things will turn around quickly. As part of a bigger community, people living in Singapore have rallied together to abide by restrictions and measures, minimised social interactions and worn our masks faithfully. It’s amazing how we’ve been plodding on in the hope that life can soon return to normal. But with recent spikes in cases in May and with another surge in cases happening at the moment, our synchronised steps are getting more and more weary, and it is of no wonder that we are fatigued. 

Do our kids feel this too? My 8-year-old daughter says she misses everything pre-Covid – fun celebrations in school like lion dances during Chinese New Year celebrations, running around with her classmates in the playground during recess, and most of all, she’s really sad that she hasn’t been able to visit her cousins and extended family in Australia for such a long time. Even though kids might not be able to fully process these changes and communicate this like we are able to, I’m sure they too feel these losses in their little lives. Kids and adults alike are facing both immediate and long-reaching effects of this unprecedented global issue. 

No matter how well we are coping with the pandemic, there is no doubt that we are fatigued. Do you feel it? Maybe one way we can cope with this, is to share something that enables you to tend to your health, your mind and your heart. For me, yes I acknowledge that I am feeling burnt out, and I shall go text my sister in Melbourne and commiserate with her. 

This is an original post by Karen Grosse from Singapore.

Karen Williams

Karen is a Singaporean with an 8 year-old daughter who’s a little fire-cracker version of herself. She’s spent the last 15 years in her various roles as trailing spouse, home-maker and educator. Having experienced 5 international moves alternating between postings and her home country of Singapore, Karen considers herself a lover of diverse foods and culture, and reckons she qualifies as a semi-professional packer. She is deeply interested in intercultural and third-culture issues, and has grown immensely from her interactions with other World Mums.

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A Forever Friend Brought Me Out Of The Pandemic

A Forever Friend Brought Me Out Of The Pandemic

I was on the road for my family’s much anticipated summer vacation when I received a text from my friend Amy, whom I had not seen in over a decade. She saw my post on social media about my destination, which is where she now lived, and asked if we could get together. Gracious and thoughtful about how family vacations can be, Amy left it up to me if I wanted to see her one-on-one, get our families together, or take a pass if it felt like too much during a pandemic.

It was June, just after my kids got out of school. While we were in some ways moving out of the pandemic, the inertia of it was still in effect. I wanted to see Amy tremendously, but I had to take a beat to assess my comfort level and that of my family. We determined we would be okay meeting up. One thing led to another, and we were invited to dinner at Amy’s home.

I knew in my heart it would be great. Amy was the first friend I made when I moved to Washington over 20 years ago. We worked together for a time and then stayed connected as we both got married and had our first children. Then she and her family moved, and while we remained committed Christmas card exchangers, we had not been in touch frequently. Yet the few times we did connect, it was like old times. There was never any weirdness or blame over who was supposed to call whom. We were just two forever friends picking up where we left off.

Excitement built for me as we drove to Amy’s home. Her family greeted us at the door. We got to hug each other and meet the youngest kids who have come along since last we visited. It was surreal. While my family had seen people in the past eighteen months, this was the first time we all went to dinner together inside someone’s home. I was overwhelmed by how good it felt to receive deep hospitality again, to be invited into someone’s intimate living space, offered a home cooked meal, and made to feel so welcomed and loved. It was like waking up out of a dream. And the best part was our kids all got along splendidly.

After several hours we took our leave, armed with recommendations of things to do on the rest of our vacation. Over the next few days, Amy checked in to see how it was going and if we needed anything else. Her care rippled forward. As I reflect back on this simple dinner, I am flooded with gratitude. It is more than the fact that Amy and her family showed us a wonderful time. This interaction helped me re-engage in the world. Amy was like guide welcoming me back to life. She reminded me of the importance of connecting after so long apart, and I am trying to pay it forward as each day leads us to the next phase of this uncertain future.

What has the pandemic been like for you? Are you able to have social gatherings in your part of the world?

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Tara Bergman. Image by congerdesign from Pixabay.

Tara Bergman (USA)

Tara is a native Pennsylvanian who moved to the Seattle area in 1998 (sight unseen) with her husband to start their grand life adventure together. Despite the difficult fact that their family is a plane ride away, the couple fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and have put down roots. They have 2 super charged little boys and recently moved out of the Seattle suburbs further east into the country, trading in a Starbucks on every corner for coyotes in the backyard. Tara loves the outdoors (hiking, biking, camping). And, when her family isn't out in nature, they are hunkered down at home with friends, sharing a meal, playing games, and generally having fun. She loves being a stay-at-home mom and sharing her experiences on World Moms Network!

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Not What We Were Expecting

Not What We Were Expecting


My 16-year-old son left for a summer study session this morning, only to message me from the train station thirty minutes later. Oops, it had been cancelled. Now a long day in the oppressing heat and humid hell of Japanese summer stretches long and lazily before us. It is not what we were expecting.


But this has been a long season of not-what-we-were-expecting. Other countries seem to have the pandemic under control. Other countries return to life as normal, but not here in Japan. Life never shut down or locked down to the extreme of other places, but we live long, drawn-out half-lives under continuous states-of-emergency while the Olympics flash on TV. It is not what we were expecting.


We didn’t expect to wake up one day to find school cancelled, and for it to stay that way for months. We didn’t expect to learn the ins and outs of indoor ventilation or the effectiveness of different kinds of masks. We didn’t expect to be separated from our friends and loved ones for so many long, long months while simultaneously being shut-in with our nuclear families while trying to work and study from home.


For me, that became a stream that burst through the cracks of my marriage until the boat was no longer seaworthy. I’d always been what I call a “solitary mom,” since my husband left all of things kids and household to me. Now the kids and the household and the mom are in another building, and all things husband are left to him. It’s not what we were expecting.
I wasn’t expecting to start graduate school; that was a dream I’d given up on, but when programs that required in-person segments changed their policies I saw my chance. I’m one term in. So far, I’m doing better than I was expecting.


I didn’t expect that so many old friends and acquaintances would have such different opinions on something as simple as a mask. We’ve worn them in Asia from before. It isn’t new. It also isn’t hard. These old friends and acquaintances are not the people I was expecting them to be.


I never expected to be relieved to the point of tears when my children were able to get an appointment for a vaccination. In this country, very few children have had that chance yet. I am still nervous and worried that something will go wrong with the supply or the appointment system, and they won’t be able to get their second shots. In efficient Japan, this distrust is also not something one would expect.


The anger is new, too: anger at people’s selfishness and silliness that puts other people in danger, anger at the government for not being more decisive, anger at myself for being powerless. It is new but not really unexpected. The unfairness of the world has always made me angry.


Some days I feel hopeless. I want to see my sister again; I want to meet my niece. I want to hug my friends and go for coffee on a cool autumn evening. I want to feel the breeze on my cheeks uncovered by a mask. I want to wear lipstick. I see pictures of friends and families from countries where these things are now possible, and the deepness of the envy I feel is unexpected and takes my breath away.


Beyond all of this, though, I have discovered that I am so much stronger than I expected. I have held the disappointments and the sadness and the loneliness of two little people along with my own, all of this time. But they have so much more resilience than I expected. We are all so much stronger than we were told. We exceed all expectations.

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Melanie Oda.

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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COVID-19 Vaccine: Listen Like Lives Depend on it

COVID-19 Vaccine: Listen Like Lives Depend on it

(Trigger warning: references to sexual abuse.)

The United States is one of the few countries in the world providing the COVID-19 vaccine for anyone who wants it, yet our vaccination rate stagnates around 49%. America has lost precious ground against misinformation. What can we do to convince vaccine-hesitant and vaccine-opposed people to get immunized?

For early COVID-19 vaccine adopters, it’s baffling that anyone would refuse a solution to a disease holding the world under siege. The choice to immunize is so obvious to some that they heap insults on those who choose not to vaccinate instead of trying to understand how to change minds. I’m no behavior expert, but I’m certain that demonizing an audience is not a convincing strategy to change behavior.

Personally, I wrestle with two questions:

Why would anyone oppose a life-saving vaccine?

and

How can we change their minds?

To help us better answer these questions, my friend Bernadette shared her story. Now a proponent of vaccines with grown children, she was once a young mom planning not to vaccinate her baby.

SETTING THE STAGE FOR VACCINE HESITANCY

The first part of understanding Bernadette’s early vaccine suspicions is to know that her first pregnancy at 19 years old resulted from an act of violence. Young and vulnerable, she fled from a friend who had suddenly become an abuser.

She sought medical care from four different obstetricians, but as a single, low-income mother, she received little compassion for her traumatic history. The dismissive attitudes of male doctors eroded her trust in traditional medicine.

Image by freestocks-photos from Pixabay

She eventually decided on an illegal home-birth with “underground” midwives because she feared her abuser could find her at a hospital. Bernadette recalls, “The midwives were the first people to ‘hear me.’” They gave her excellent advice about nutrition and childbirth.

The competence and kindness of these caretakers primed Bernadette to accept that the medical community was not all-knowing. Unfortunately, these particular women also gave her misinformation about the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. It’s important to note that midwives are valuable, trusted birthing partners around the world and often support immunizations.

When her baby girl was born, Bernadette still wanted to provide the best protection she could. So she took her daughter for vaccines. It horrified her when a lump the size of a walnut appeared at the injection site of the first shot. The follow-up shot caused an even bigger lump. Even though lumps are a common side effect, it convinced Bernadette that her midwives were right in opposing vaccines. She added her voice to those expressing mistrust about immunizations.

CHANGING HER MIND

Eleven years later, Bernadette was pregnant with her second child. This time, with a loving husband and health insurance, she looked forward to consistent care for the new baby and her daughter. However, she still distrusted vaccines, and brought that attitude with her to interview doctors.

That’s when she met Dr. Patricia Wolff, a highly respected St. Louis pediatrician. Bernadette remembers her as respectful and unflappable with a wry sense of humor. It was a very impactful conversation. She says, “She didn’t seem like she was standing four steps above me. We were having a discussion. She wasn’t trying to make me submit.” Bernadette wanted to work with this woman!

Dr. Wolff told Bernadette that she wanted to work with her, too. However, for the safety of her current patients, she wouldn’t be their doctor unless Bernadette agreed to vaccinations. Dr. Wolff didn’t show anger at the anti-vaccine position, only disappointment. Bernadette’s desire to work with Dr. Wolff won out. The doctor was flexible enough to alter their vaccine schedule, so the kids only received one shot at a time.

When Bernadette talks to anti-vaccine folks in 2021, she feels a reluctant kinship. She remembers the temptation to dig into a position when others belittled her intelligence. It was empowering then to think, “I know something those so-called experts don’t know.”

Image: The Guardian

She believes the speed with which COVID-19 covered the globe contributed to helpless feelings. People act illogically, faced with helplessness and fear. Nobody wants to feel ignorant or out of control. They can’t control job loss or ventilator supply, but they can control whether they get a needle in their arm or wear a mask. She sees their hardened beliefs and notes, “Once you take a stand, it’s hard to reverse because that would make you look and feel stupid.”

LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE

What can we learn from Bernadette’s experiences as we talk to people who mistrust the COVID-19 vaccine?

  1. Listening + Respect = Trust

I noticed themes of listening and respect. The midwives were the first people to hear Bernadette. The doctors who wouldn’t listen made her feel small and ignorant. Why would she trust them over the women who took the time to care for her emotions and her body?

Dr. Wolff listened to her. It didn’t cost the doctor anything but time, but she gained trust. Far too many people in Bernadette’s life were condescending and dismissive when she longed for validation and respect.

  1. Trust is essential

Trust was the element that caused Bernadette to change her mind. Once you stoop to ridicule or insults, there’s no trust in the relationship. If you make fun of others, they can dismiss you. They no longer see you acting like someone with their best interests at heart. You go from being a friend and resource to “one of them.” The response switches from “I’ll hear her out because I respect her” to “I don’t care what she says.”

  1. Stand firm without punishing

Dr. Wolff didn’t berate her potential patient. With compassion, she denied services based on the safety of her patients. She was accommodating, but never compromised the protection of children under her care. We can be firm without being hateful.

PUTTING LESSONS TO THE TEST

After talking with Bernadette, I reached out to a vaccinated friend who hadn’t taken her 12-year-old for his COVID-19 vaccine. I recognized her desire to protect a child was the same reasoning that led me to vaccinate my kids. Focusing on that common emotion helped me speak less and listen more. Shortly afterward, I received a message from her saying that her son received his first dose!

Of course, not all conversations will go that smoothly. Yet I hope others might find inspiration here to help start the hard conversations. Lives depend on it.

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Cindy Levin. Featured image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Cindy Levin

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.

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The Pandemic, Traveling and the Power of NOW

The Pandemic, Traveling and the Power of NOW

World Moms Network changed my life.

The first time I traveled out of my country was in 2013. Jennifer Burden, Founder of World Moms Network, celebrated. She couldn’t stop talking about it on social media. I went to Chicago to collect the BlogHer International Activist Award on behalf of World Moms Network (at that time we were still World Moms Blog). That trip was life-changing.

Less than a year later, I went to Brazil on a reporting project, also representing World Moms Network [WMN]. It was my third time out of India. Jen sent me a card that said, “Report your heart out.” The words have stayed with me ever since and every trip after that continued to be life-changing. 

Now the world has changed and travel is restricted.

As I write this from India, we cannot travel to the next block or even the supermarket. So what of travels on planes or cars or trains, or even trucks? 

From an early age, my father used to take me on trips all over India, a few times every year. We used to attend a lot of the Heartfulness events, which happened all over India. I enjoyed not just the pleasure of a trip but also connecting heartfully with new people. Being part of events and celebrations, and networking with people for a purpose, for altruism, for serving humanity has always been part of my life. Perhaps being part of the World Moms Network, is a naturally joyful process because of that lifelong experience of trying newness, initiated by my father. 

So, traveling to the USA, or the UK or Brazil, and other countries was an extension of my childhood. The evolution of learning; the journey of growing as a person; the joy of seemingly tiny moments, continued.

Traveling is a privilege not a necessity.

Let me make a few things clear before I continue. First, I was not born into privilege but to a middle-class family. We saved money for our travels across India. That felt important to my father and as an extension to us. Second, now that we travel outside of India, we still save money, because that continues to be important to us as a family.

Also, I would like to point out, if you make intelligent financial decisions while planning travel, you can make it more affordable.

Also, for those who have challenging financial situations, I am not saying it is imperative for you to travel to find meaning in life. I would never say that. That would be thoughtless. I am not one to judge anyone. I am merely sharing my heart, my experiences, and my joys.

Adrianna and her son in Brazil

Traveling has made my heart softer.

Though not born into privilege, I lived in a very privileged atmosphere within my family, with all my needs fulfilled as well as some wants, and even a few luxuries. Though we were just a normal middle-class family, we were also content, satisfied, and always joyful – my father made sure of that. So, I have never had a need go unmet.

These days, every time I come across a mother in the slums, I am constantly reminded of Adrianna from Brazil, whom I met during one of the reporting trips. I wonder if all her 11 children are fed and receive an education. I wonder if she has a good job. I wonder if she is happy. I wonder if she had any more children. It makes me think of not only her but also about many other people Around the world.

I also think of Karma, the guide I met in Bhutan. He told us that, at the juncture of every Buddhist shrine, he is going to pray to Buddha so that he gets admitted to a university in Paris for his postgraduate degree in tourism. I wonder if he got in, and if he did, what is he doing now? And what happened to him when the world went into lockdown, with the tourist industry being the worst affected of all.

With Karma in Bhutan

Just before lockdown, my family and I traveled to Egypt. In Luxor, we met Abdul, our guide. He had just had a baby and was always impatiently (and endearingly) waiting for us to wrap up our day, so he could rush home to his wife and baby. Where are they now? How are they managing their livelihood? 

Traveling makes us think.

It expands our horizon; it helps create empathy; it has made me care more. I care for Abdul’s family. I care for Karma’s aspirations. I care for Adrianna and her babies. But I also know that my caring for them alone is not going to help them. A larger force is necessary for the world to get back to normal, to defeat that tiny microscopic invisible virus, now mutating into other variants. 

Traveling instills joy.

And now, not being able to travel, has made life very different. I look for joy in other things. I have discovered the joy of long walks. During the beginning of lockdown, there was just a ban on international and domestic travel but we could still move freely within the city and state. I used to go walking here in Chennai by the banks of the River Adyar. I spent nearly 2 hours every evening, walking beside the river. The narrow dirt road, the setting sun, the buffaloes bathing in the river, cranes and a few exotic seasonal birds hopping by to say hello, and me listening to my favorite Laurie Santos podcast. Now, even these are nostalgic these days.

Finding joy in other ways

On Thursdays, I would take my weekly WMN Editors’ call as I walked. Sometimes I would have just returned from my walk, with a fresh mind and joy in my heart, I would bond with my WMN girlfriends over a cup of hot ginger chai. On other days, I used to walk my feet off, and it felt good. Walking was my substitute to travel, it felt like trekking or hiking. But now, with my state entering complete lockdown, I miss my walks too. I miss the goats and buffaloes walking towards me and meeting occasional friends on the walking trail.

Lessons learned

One thing I have learned through all the travels, through all the walks, through all the lockdowns—which India is now so famous for—is to be in the HERE and NOW. To be present. The planning of the relaunch of the World Moms Network was the highest point in my life. I say the highest because I was at my lowest possible and it was these wonderful women from WMN who perked me up EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. That gift was the most important for me then. The relaunch? Yes, of course, now that Is also a gift but the invaluable presence of the planning phase was when I felt the greatest joy. 

Have you ever experienced the joy of a trek? I have. When we rowed the Phewa lake in Nepal and then trekked over a hilltop. We took breaks in between to drink chai from the village chai shops. When we finally reached the top of Peace Pagoda, it was like deja vu. I am sure you understand that. The joy of the journey of the NOW was the greatest. The sights and sounds and smells of the NOW were more precious than any future sightings of a heritage site. 

Traveling has made me appreciate the power of the now. 

But what of the NOW we are all going through? I will not be surprised if I feel nostalgic someday about the NOW of the pandemic. I already missed my girls last Thursday, when we did not meet (because of conflicts) for our editorial meeting. 

What else will I miss? Surely having my son around all the time. He is having a great time with two monitors attached to his laptop—one with online chess and the other with online school—as I holler in the background to close the chess window and focus on the school. I am sure I will feel lonely when he is back to full-time school and away from home for 8 hours. 

It is best to stay here and enjoy and be grateful for all that I have now.

Yes, I do miss traveling but I think I enjoy drinking chai every evening with my neighborhood girlfriends on the terrace of my house. And no trip can replace the soul-stirring conversation we have every day. 

Travelling gives me joy, zest, but this lockdown has given me so much rest too. It makes me take leaps of faith into the unknown. Lockdown has restored my faith in humanity too when I witness so many random acts of kindness between strangers. Travelling has made me realize that I know so little of this whole world and that there is so much more to know and experience and eat and see and do.

But this lockdown has also made me realize that I know so little of myself, of my family, of what we can do together when cooped up in a house for such a long time, of all the loves and joys we derive in each other’s company.

So, as I wait patiently, to start traveling again and to start walking beside the river again, I take a few deep breaths and let go…of myself, so I can enjoy the present and experience the joy of the NOW.

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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Why The COVID-19 Vaccine Should Be Shared

Why The COVID-19 Vaccine Should Be Shared

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.

The U.K.’s Guardian reported that most impoverished nations will not achieve mass COVID-19 immunization until at least 2024. Some may never get there. That’s what happens when high-income countries turn a blind eye to disease once the threat has receded for them.

Waiting for Protection

Wealthy countries have secured enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to vaccinate their entire populations several times over. What do citizens of smaller countries think about being left behind as affluent nations hoard immunization doses and technology?

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.”

Rachel (left) and Cindy (second from right) with their mothers during a past Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago

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.

Portia Nartey in front of the Washington University buildings

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 [2020]. We’ll just continue to mask-up and absorb more alcohol through our hands than from our glasses.”

Cindy Levin

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.

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