I rejoiced when news of possible Covid-19 vaccine candidates hit in 2020. I hoped that a strategic roll-out in these ‘unprecedented times’ would mean that vaccine uptake would be high, and that the urgency of the pandemic would lead to knowledge and resources being shared amongst different nations. I am no influencer by any stretch, but I committed my knowledge in immunology — together with my speaking and writing skills — to do as much demystification work around vaccines that I could in my tiny corner of the internet.
Vaccines as a Seed of Hope in Healthcare
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Of course, evidence shows us time and again that vaccines save lives. And it is intuitive to want to see a collective healing (both physical and otherwise) amidst the global upheaval and devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, my eagerness to see the vaccination uptake statistics steadily increase was born out of more than just typical goodwill for global health: at the time I truly wasn’t sure if I, like many other precarious migrants in the UK, had legal access to the vaccine. I was embroiled in a court case fighting against deportation from the UK, with no access to the free National Health Service (NHS) typically available to UK residents.
To me vaccines gave reason to believe that this pandemic could eventually be controlled at the very least — hopefully protecting individuals who cannot receive the vaccine whether for health reasons, or immigration and border laws (including asylum seekers, undocumented individuals, refugees, and anyone facing immigration hardship: all whom I refer to in this essay as ‘precarious migrants’).
Yet what would make most sense in my mind, especially in light of eradication efforts, would be for all precarious migrants to have access to Covid-19 vaccines regardless of immigration status; as opposed to any section of society having to rely on herd immunity as a protective measure. Any hope to dampen Covid-19’s effects needs to take a concerted effort with as much vaccine coverage as possible.
Vaccine Access is a Global Health Issue, as are Vaccine Nationalism and Hoarding
The global necropolitics upheld by border laws and immigration systems are a significant factor that has prevented access to the vaccine for some of us. There simply cannot be a ‘post-vaccine return to society’ for those who are barred from receiving the Covid-19 vaccine in the first place due to their immigration status, and especially when they actively want to receive the vaccine.
The global web made up of all healthcare givers has worked tirelessly within this pandemic, sometimes amidst limited resources and changing government guidelines. The healthcare sector, and workers at all levels, deserves every kind of support and resource. This is not only to ensure that workers are safe and valued, and systems are secure and efficient, but also that healthcare users can be attended to safely and efficiently. To me global health equity therefore means that, amongst other things, these three parts — workers, systems, and users — are optimally covered. This coverage requires a just global health ethic that includes equal access to resources (in this context, vaccines) and knowledge exchange on an equal footing.
Access to Healthcare as a Precarious Migrant
I have previously pseudonymously written about the fact that not having access to free healthcare whilst being someone who had been on prescribed anti-depressants before my immigration problems began, led me to having to accept ‘donations’ of the anti-depressant I believe kept me alive over the past years.
This pandemic has elevated my anxiety and cyberchondria- incessant online searching of what symptoms could possibly mean. So, naturally Vaccine FOMO started creeping in. This was accompanied by fear because I’d heard a story of a precarious migrant being threatened at a vaccine clinic that they would be reported to the UK’s Home Office- which oversees UK borders. Questions flew round my head a mile a minute: what would happen if I got sick with serious symptoms? How could I balance taking care of myself, laying low, and mustering enough strength to keep going in my court case?
Earlier in 2021 when the UK government stated that precarious migrants should be allowed to register with their local GP and be vaccinated, I decided to make my move. I headed to the nearest GP and registered with no ID, and shortly thereafter received a letter urging me to register for a Covid-19 vaccine as I was classed as ‘high risk’. At the time of writing, I am fully vaccinated and my immigration case has been resolved positively. In terms of both receiving the vaccine and being granted a visa to remain in the UK, I am one of the privileged ones.
An investigation from mid-July 2021 showed that 62% of GPs would turn precarious migrants away from registering, thus affecting their access to receive the vaccine.
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