COVIDNewsPoliticsSF Bay Area

Welcome to San Francisco, Capital of Vaccine Privilege

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BY Lysol Tony-Romeo

San Francisco has a lot of titles. We’re one of Tennessee Williams’ only three American cities that aren’t Cleveland, a title we share with New York and New Orleans. We have the misfortune of being the Tech Capital, and we’re still the Best City For Marijuana In North America. With all the excitement about things returning to “normal” we should probably acknowledge a new title:

Welcome to San Francisco, Capital of Vaccine Privilege.

Zoom in on SF and what you see is a city preparing to emerge from a year plus of lockdown. Social media is flooded with pictures of people doing activities long postponed because of the pandemic, invariably tagged with #natureishealing. Indoor dining is back, and we creep steadily towards a much anticipated reopening of live entertainment venues. We’re going to get to hug our friends, sing along drunkenly at karaoke, throw actual birthday parties, and soon! After being touch-starved for 15 months, many are primping and priming for what is projected to be the Sluttiest Summer Ever (SSE).

While there are many components to this forecasted SSE, those sweet, sweet jabs are hands down the biggest contributing factor. 69% of San Francisco residents have received a vaccine, and 58% have completed their series. People are celebrating their two week anniversary of their second dose, the point at which they become fully vaccinated and ready to party.

Personally, I’m tentatively making plans for the coming reopening. I got my second dose last week, and I’m already scheduling band rehearsals and talking to venues about summer dates. There truly is a head change that comes with being vaccinated. I’m starting to hope again.

Zoom out a bit. If you frame the vaccination drive as a race, the Bay Area is definitely winning. Out of counties in the United States with a population of 250k or more, 8 of the 19 highest vaccination rates belong to Northern California. All 6 Bay Area counties that locked down together last March have 61.5% or more of their population vaccinated.

Gov. Gavin Newsom looks at Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in a subzero freezer. (Photo courtesy of Gov. Gavin Newsom)

Those 6 Bay Area counties are also the top 6 in California in both per capita and median family income.

Zoom out a bit further. 39% of the United States is fully vaccinated. And with a confirmed 1.21 billion doses purchased, almost 4 times the number of people in the country, our nation doesn’t have to worry about running out anytime soon. There are only a handful of countries with a higher percentage fully vaccinated, and their combined population is a little under 32 million. We’re the only country producing the Moderna vaccine, the EU is the only country producing the Pfizer vaccine, and the US and EU are at the front of the line to buy both, reserving 60% of the confirmed doses of the two vaccines despite having a combined 10% of the world’s population.

Let’s take a closer look at some other places. Scroll to India, where less than 3% of their 1.3 billion people are fully vaccinated. May 25 was the first day since April 15 where they recorded less than over 200k new cases in a day. With reporting limits and the sheer scale of the unfolding tragedy, Covid stats in the country are probably a considerable undercount. Zero percent of the population is discussing indoor dinner dates anytime soon.

Scroll over to South America. Brazil was hit this spring with a devastating wave that included a significant number of reinfections of people who got Covid in 2020. The outbreak has spilled over into neighboring countries, with 8 countries on the continent among the 10 highest mortality rates over the past 7 days. They aren’t announcing any summer festival lineups in the near future.

Scroll to Africa. Their vaccination rate sits at 2.1 doses per 100 people, compared to 58 per 100 for North America. Only 0.52% of the African continent is fully vaccinated. South Africa has seen a sharp increase in positive Covid cases for nearly a month#Vaxxedandwaxed isn’t trending.

Zoom all the way out. From a worldwide perspective, the Covid pandemic is as bad as it’s ever been, matching the previous winter’s surge but for a longer duration. This is exacerbated by the crisis in India, which sends 30% of all vaccines exported worldwide. With an unofficial vaccine export ban, middle and lower income countries that rely on India for a vaccine will have to wait even longer. Reaching herd immunity in these countries may not be possible until 2024.

Sluttiest Summer Ever sounds great! After being spoiled by a great nightlife scene I’m ready to appreciate every aspect of it that I once took for granted, from the roar of the audience to the sweaty hugs backstage. I could totally shut out the suffering of the rest of the world, if I just focused locally.

And maybe that’s the point. We can’t let this pandemic become an “out of sight, out of mind” type deal.

Morally, we’ve got an obligation as a country to do everything we can to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity worldwide, and that involves taking on pharmaceutical companies and reevaluating the importance of Intellectual Property when the consequence is an entirely preventable death toll in the millions to tens of millions.

Practically, the more opportunities the virus has to mutate, the more likely an escape variant will develop and appear in the United States, rendering the vaccines we all received more or less meaningless. Our best chance is to spread the vaccine as far and wide as we can, as fast as we can. Covid has proven a good reminder that we’re still a global community, and that as long as there is a population at risk, we are all at risk. For every possible reason, we can’t allow ourselves to be satisfied with a vaccinated United States. We need the Global South to be as protected as the Global North.

To do that is going to take sustained agitation. Can we also make this the MPSE (Most Protest-y Summer Ever)? The joy of coming together can reach another level when you’re there for a good cause. Hug your friends on a march to City Hall. Make your dinner date a planning meeting. Just as delicious, and now also tax deductible! Your event could be a fundraiser to support the grassroots orgs pushing this country forward.

I guess what I’m saying is HAGS, and I hope your SSE is the MPSE!

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