In the global race to vaccinate, the UK has quickly established itself as a front-runner.
Steadily pacing behind Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the UK currently has the third-highest vaccination rate in the world: 27.86 doses administered per 100 people. Over 18 million people have already received their first vaccine dose, with priority given to health and social care workers, the over-50s, and people with underlying health conditions – including young people. By autumn, it is forecasted that the entire adult population will have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
While the UK matches other wealthy nations in its haste to inoculate the population, factors such as vaccine nationalism, disinformation and delays in distribution have left millions without equitable access to vaccines. Tedros Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, has warned that almost 130 countries with 2.5 billion people are yet to administer a single dose of the vaccine. A recent report by the Economist echoes this, noting that most low- and middle-income nations will not be able to inoculate their most vulnerable citizens until late 2022, or 2023.
So, what does it feel like to be a young person of colour in the UK who has received the vaccine, but has to watch family across the world get left behind? Here’s what they told VICE World News.
“It’s been bitter-sweet”
I got my vaccine two weeks ago and I was super excited. It feels like we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not a hallucination this time.
But I've got family in Tanzania who haven’t received the vaccine yet, and they also don’t have a timeline of when they could get it because the government is actually rejecting the vaccine. We are also in limbo because they aren’t updating their COVID data, so when my mum phones my aunt back home or when we try to see what the situation looks like from this end, all we can see is a flat-line, which is so frustrating for all of us.
It’s been bitter-sweet, to say the least, because although I am excited to have got it, I get really worried when I think about how my family back home remains fully exposed to COVID. Nicole, 23, Bristol.
“Getting the vaccine made me more acutely aware of inequities in access”
I got my vaccine in January, and I feel really grateful. There was a three-week gap between when I got it and when they started the vaccine programme in Morocco, so for those three weeks I was quite anxious because I was worried about my family and friends. But then my country revved up the engines and started vaccinating people like crazy – I definitely feel less anxious now.
It's really interesting because it’s almost like getting the vaccine made me more acutely aware of inequities in access. I think that’s what was making me feel so unsettled. Before, the playing-ground seemed even because we were all at the same risk, but now it's like people have been put on different pedestals based on their geographical location. Yonathan, 28, Exeter.
“Larger countries have so much purchasing power, and it makes you think, ‘Will smaller nations be able to do that?’”
I had my first dose on the 12th of January. I wasn’t actually expecting to get it, but I went with my dad to his appointment and they said I was eligible for the vaccine. It was a relief taking it as I knew it would protect me, my family and my friends.
I’ve got family in Guyana, Jamaica and America – none of them have got it yet. Take Jamaica as an example, most people view it as a holiday destination and are looking forward to heading there in the summer once international travel resumes, so it does concern you. I was looking at some stats, and Jamaica is expecting to get 5 percent of its population immunised by the second quarter of this year. Looking at the figures there, 5 percent works out to be just under 147,000 people. And even though there’s programmes like COVAX, we saw larger countries have so much purchasing power, and it makes you think, “Will smaller nations be able to do that as well?”
I’ve thought from day one that it’s not just a national effort, it has to be an international effort too. Kadeem, 20, London.
“It feels kind of selfish”
When I first told my parents I was eligible they said I should definitely take it, but my first thought was, “My family hasn’t got it.” I feel relieved, especially in terms of work, but it also feels kind of selfish because I feel like there’s people back home [Kenya] that need it more. Like my grandma – she needs it more than I do.
I know it may take awhile before everyone at home can access the vaccine, and when we do, not everyone may be able to afford it because people might have to pay for it. That makes it feel even more unfair because there are low-income families who definitely need it more than us, but it will now become a thing of “whoever can afford it will get it first” which is really not how it should be. Atiyah, 21, Leeds.
“It feels like I’ve jumped an invisible queue”
I got my vaccine yesterday. When I got the text to book my appointment I actually thought it was a scam, so I had to double-check but I’m really stoked to have got it – especially now that they’ve announced restrictions could be lifted by the 21st of June.
It's actually the weirdest feeling because it feels like I've jumped an invisible queue. I feel hopeful, but I also feel guilty that I’ve got it before my parents in Iran, and all my older relatives who are at greater risk or have underlying conditions. Anthony, 25, London.