Vaccine apartheid spreading the same strain of racism

    Dec 1, 2021
    Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos

    OTTAWA—Tell me anti-blackness is global without telling me anti-blackness is global.

    On Nov. 26, researchers in South Africa detected a new addition to the coronavirus family, a variant named omicron (B.1.1.529). It was first detected in Botswana but identified by South African researchers, after a rapid spike in cases in the city of Pretoria. In just two short weeks, the variant had reached outbreak status, with cases detected in Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom, meaning it’s already on its march towards global domination as the variant of fear for 2022.

    Happy New Year.

    This variant is scarier than delta. In a primer by Al Jazeera, the new omicron variant is more transmissible than previous iterations of COVID-19. “Experts believe there are at least 50 mutations on the new variant, with 32 mutations on the spike protein, the part of the virus that enters human cells.” However, little is known as to how that translates into physical implications, as compared to previous variants. Of great concern is the potential for reinfections.

    The research continues, particularly since South Africa is one of the leading researchers on coronavirus in the world. This is because for the last few decades, South Africa has been battling both HIV and TB and has some of the best resources and health networks on the continent. According to Science.org, this gives South African researchers an advantage in fighting the coronavirus: “Infection control measures are similar for COVID-19 and TB … because both seem to spread through exhaled droplets. That means health care workers are familiar with the protective gear they need to treat suspected COVID-19 patients. And South Africa’s government is repurposing the aggressive ‘find, treat, and prevent’ strategy that’s key to its HIV response …. It began to send mobile COVID-19 testing clinics into densely populated areas this week to identify cases and contacts.” This article was written in April 2020. Although Canadian provinces did set up drive-throughs, that approach is a narrow one, which doesn’t reach those most exposed and/or most marginalized.

    I see Canadian excellence is alive and well.

    The political response to the detection of omicron was as expected from the Liberal government: swift and anti-Black. By imposing a travel ban on African countries that will do little to stop the spread of the variant, it left out the rich countries (read: white) that have also detected the variant. Of the aforementioned countries who detected the strain, Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom, only one was hit with the travel ban. Because only one is in Africa. Because only one is a majority Black country.

    (In true clapback fashion, Hong Kong has just banned Canadian travellers over omicron.)

    Eventually, the South African variant will soon lead some media outlets to dub this iteration of COVID as “The African Virus” to stoke the omnipresent Africa-is-a-basket-case-narrative, just as they did with the first COVID iteration when it became known as the “China virus” or “Kung-Flu”. (Notice that the U.K. strain didn’t lead COVID to be called, “The “British Virus” or “COVID Colonialist.”) It’s the same noose of the characterizations of weakness, stupidity, and incivility that have plagued the continent since colonialization. It’s that underlying white supremacist belief that led WE Charity to raise money for building homes in Kenya for the poor, feeble, and dotish Africans when they allegedly laid minimal bricks, in the name of White Saviourism. It reveals itself in the eco-colonialism of Prince William who blames African women having too many babies for African wildlife to survive, echoing 2017 comments that, “Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050—a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month. There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure.”

    Abolish the monarchy.

    The truth is that vaccine apartheid is the real problem. The lack of equity in the distribution of vaccines due to patents and money, as well as vaccine hoarding by rich countries, including Canada, means that the Global South is largely unvaccinated, making them highly susceptible for mutations. Basically, rich countries used their power and might to get vaccines for themselves, starved the Global South, and turned around and blamed the Global South for not having high vaccination rates. And to make matters worse, even if those in poorer countries do get vaccinated, if they haven’t received the Cadillac cocktail of Pfizer or Moderna, they’re banned from entering those rich countries anyway. What a racket of epic white supremacist proportions.

    Never forget that Canada raided the COVAX kitty, meant to provide vaccines for those same countries struggling with vaccination rates now. Never forget that Canada was the only G7 country to do so. And it was all done for short-term political gain on the backs of Africans’ lives. Not only do Black lives not matter in Canada, in interpreting the actions of the Liberal government, they’re worth less around the world.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

    The Hill Times