As the Delta variant storms the globe, we are reminded not only of the danger of COVID-19 and its numerous variants but also the consequences of living in countries that lack access to vaccines and sufficient medical resources. The imbalance of vaccine supply in Asian countries and its consequences are already obvious. A stark contrast in the access to vaccines can be seen below. As of August 15, 77% of citizens in Singapore have been vaccinated. Compare that with the much smaller percentages of Thailand at 25% and Vietnam at 13%. These inequities are further exacerbated by the types of vaccines each country has access to. In Singapore, citizens can choose from any of the vaccines available around the globe.
In contrast, in Thailand, for example, the royal vaccine gained traction as Thais discovered the royal family supported Sinovac and AstraZeneca for financial reasons. Thus not only has the rollout been slow and inefficient, but also denied citizens access to higher efficacy mRNA vaccines. The end result is as of August 16, 50 people a day are being infected in Singapore, while Thailand is seeing record highs at over 20,000 people per day.
In the developed world, COVID-19 has meant death and immense suffering. As US President Joe Biden said, “…an empty chair at the dining table.” It has also meant economic hardship alleviated particularly effectively in wealthier nations through rent moratoriums and relief assistance funding. But for the developing world, a lack of access to vaccines and medical treatment acts as a double whammy. Not only threatening the lives of citizens in the immediate future but also the long-term political, economic and free speech of citizens who are overtly oppressed by their governments.
Whether COVID-19 was made in a lab or a naturally occurring once in a generation pandemic, two things are certain. One is that covid-19 and its variants are here to stay and something we will have to live with, like seasonal flu. Also, there will be future pandemics at an increasing rate, according to experts, ,and regardless of their origin, there will be significant human tolls. As we have seen, these human tolls go beyond sickness, death, and economic hardship. From Hong Kong to Thailand to even South Korea, governments are intentionally and perhaps unintentionally exploiting the pandemic as a tool for suppression of protest and holding their governments accountable.
To varying degrees, democratic ideals and, in turn, human rights are being trampled upon in the name of public health. It will give way to long-term systemic effects that will long outlive the coronavirus pandemic and hurt an entire generation if allowed to go unchecked. Countries around the world need to recognize this undiagnosed symptom of covid-19 and help to cure it before countries around the world suffer a long-covid hangover of government suppression.
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