Which shot did you get?

I came across a friend at the corner store. I had not seen him in a while. Invariably my second question to him was,

“Did you get your vaccine?”

Other than the fact that he was deliberating on getting one, he was waiting to see which one would be ranked number one in the opinion poll. He said he could not make up his mind on which one to get. Of course he wanted to know which one I had gotten and if I had had any side effects.

I told him if he was afraid of pin pricks, he could walk down the street where the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was being given for free. And he would be done in one “shot.” He said he had heard unsettling things about the J&J vaccine and was not inclined to get it.

Immediately the absurdity of where we are in this battle against this scourge, became abundantly clear.

Even though the United States has seen more people die from the virus than any other nation in the world, many are still hesitant to get the vaccine. The mixed messaging and conspiracy theories strewn by social media, have warped people’s understanding and belief in facts and science. The slogan “we are all in it together” no longer holds true. I wonder if it ever did.

The low vaccination rates in so called “red states” in the south, is leading to infection spikes driven by the highly contagious Delta Variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci eluded that two Americas are being created due to vaccine hesitancy, putting the whole nation in peril.

While we are far from seeing an end to this epidemic, the sudden decline in infections in affluent nations, as a result of pockets being vaccinated beyond 50%, is certainly lifting spirits. Stadiums are again being allowed to pack, restaurants have lifted capacity limitations, travel restrictions are more relaxed and mask wearing has become voluntary.

The vaccines seem to be working and even though there is a threat of variants lurking, studies are showing that wearing a seat belt is better than flying blind.

While in the United States, a vaccine menu can be ordered at your local pharmacy, in other large nations vaccine shortages are acute. In India where the virus ravaged relentlessly, a third wave is is being braced for, as vaccine supplies struggle to meet the demand. With very low vaccination rates, Australia is still employing lock downs to combat the virus.

The lack of a unified global response from the start of the pandemic exacerbated the problem, leading to untold death and desperation.

The same approach is now creating a world of the vaccine “haves” and the “have-nots.”

I was in India in March, just before the second wave engulfed the nation in despair. While browsing through the news paper I came across a headline- “Vaccine Package Tours.”

The rich in India were being offered all inclusive trips to Dubai to get the Pfizer vaccine. The Louis Vuitton of vaccines.

For an exorbitant price, a packaged tour offered to fly you in a chartered jet to Dubai. After your first dose your accommodations for the requisite twenty eight day waiting period would be taken care in luxury. After the 2nd jab you would be returned home safe and sound.

This report exposed the disparity which now seems to have become the norm. While rich nations vaccinate even those who are least at risk, poorer nations wait in line to save their vulnerable, leaving large swathes open to outbreaks.

In the meantime the World Health Organization pleads for haste in delivering much needed doses to Africa, Asia and the Far East. As everyone knows the virus sees no borders and if let up will mutate making it harder to cap.

While party conversations in America begin with people identifying themselves as Pfizer or Moderna campers, like Beatles and Stones fans, China and Russia have been shipping their vaccines to eager buyers.

AstraZeneca from UK has deployed widely after some initial hiccups.

India has developed its own indigenous vaccine and Cuba is working on an array as well.

With all these vaccines at our disposal humanity still cannot come up with a decisive and collaborative strategy that would be beneficial to all equally.

The inability of the world to work as one to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, leaves us vulnerable to this one and to the others waiting in the wings to deploy.

The lack of transparency and sharing of information and know-how leaves humanity in a precarious position. The politicization and polarization of discourse around science, exposes the dangers brought about by non-cooperation, stubborn denial and ignorance.

The fracture caused in the belief in science and scientists, by a world fragmented by misinformation, only makes us regressive.

So the next time someone asks what shot did you get? The response should be, my favorite flavor of the month vanilla with a dash of chocolate.

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Anand Kamalakar

Anand Kamalakar is a Brooklyn based documentary film director, producer and editor. His latest film SALAM can now be seen on Netflix.