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Vaccines, Access, and Immigration

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Sooner or later, but preferably sooner, a vaccine for Covid-19 will find its way into the world. But as we eagerly await an end to quarantine, it is worth asking ourselves what we will do with a vaccine once we have one.

Access to medical care has always been politicized, and just who it is that gets first access to testing and vaccines is often indicative of where a society’s priorities lie. Are we vaccinating the communities at highest risk first, or those with the money to pay for them? Do we intend to make people pay for the vaccine, or will it be available to everyone at no cost to increase the amount of people inoculated? Will the vaccine be limited to the country in which it was made, or will it be shared with the rest of the world?

These questions in particular raise even more about migrants and their place in all this. For a person with uncertain citizenship status, the development of a vaccine could mean the difference between life and death. Because it is far more difficult to socially distance and practice generally recommended practices of sanitation when you don’t have a home or secure income, the average migrant is at a significantly higher risk of infection from Covid-19. This combined with the fact that medical care is more frequently available to non-migrants means that the risk of complications or mortality is also higher for migrants.

So, will a vaccine solve these problems? Probably not. The likelihood is that the first vaccines outside of medical trials shall be made available to those with the ability to pay for them. Countries choose to compete to make a vaccine rather than cooperate, which both slows scientific progress and incentivizes keeping the vaccine’s making a secret so that other countries will rely on whoever makes it first for the vaccine.

Desire for international power consistently trumps compassion. A vaccine or cure for Covid-19 is far more likely to become international leverage than it is to be made widely accessible as a humanitarian resource. The early days of the AIDs epidemic serve as a reminder that if you are not considered important politically, there will be fewer efforts to help you.

A medical treatment should never be a commodity, and yet, this the current dilemma. Will migrants in immigration detention centers get access to a vaccine? The answer depends on policy-makers and pricing, on people who have likely never seen an immigration detention center, or if they have, do not and cannot understand the life of a migrant. To these people, migrant lives are a large entity that is stacked against other political priorities. It is not worth asking them how they personally feel about migrant rights. We have to make it politically foolish to not care about migrant rights.

Email your political representatives, write, demonstrate, do whatever it is that you can to make the lives of migrants a political necessity to these people (Resources linked below). Remind them that those lives lie in their hands, and that the decision to save them lies in their ability to take some pushback.

Life and death is not a hypothetical to people living in detention centers. We should not allow politicians to treat it as such.



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