Vaccine Hesitancy is Rational
It's also deadly. Which is why addressing global vaccine inequality means addressing information inequality
Hello from Benin, where just 5.5 percent of people are fully vaccinated.
As the highly-mutated Omicron variant of Covid-19 sends the world into a new fit of fear and anxiety, too many people still seem to have not grasped one basic truth about a global pandemic: It’s global. What happens in China or South Africa or Italy impacts what happens in the United States. None of us can fight this virus alone.
That means that the longer we wait for mass global vaccinations, the more vulnerable all of us are — low vaccination rates mean more mutations, which eventually means a disease that is resistant to the vaccine, which means we have to start all over again.
It’s been frustrating, then, to read about global vaccine inequality and, now, vaccine hesitancy in many lower-income countries. This was all very predictable: Both rich countries hoarding vaccines, and people in poor ones not wanting to take them.
When the US was going full-on America First (including under Biden) and reserving huge numbers of vaccines for Americans, the consequences were obvious before they came to fruition. Diseases don’t respect borders, and unless you’re an isolated island nation that is content to stay that way, Covid requires a coordinated global response.
Finally, many months after vaccines rolled out in the US, a significant number are being sent to developing countries. And it’s about time: Only about 7 percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated, compared to 88 percent of people in mainland China, well over 70 percent of people in western Europe, and 60 percent of Americans.
Vaccines are arriving in African nations, but roughly 40 percent of them haven’t been used. Impoverished countries with fragile health care systems that could be quickly overwhelmed by Covid are sending vaccines back, or destroying them before they expire. For many liberal Americans, those stats are shocking and frustrating: After hearing so much about wealthy countries withholding vaccines from poor ones that desperately wanted them, why are people now refusing vaccination?