Global vaccination more important than booster shots

Illustration by Alex Nash

Immunity to COVID-19, both on a practical and ethical level, is one that concerns the entirety of humanity. Any consideration of booster shots, therefore, must take into consideration the global situation, not just the local one. According to several online vaccine trackers, the total number of COVID-19 vaccines administered globally sits somewhere around 6.7 to 6.8 billion. While such a figure is impressive, the best picture it can provide is one where around two billion people globally have been vaccinated, with more having received partial immunity from one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. This is a Herculean effort on the part of humanity, and the achievement of such a figure should not be minimized. However, on a planet with a population approaching eight billion, this effort is simply not enough to justify booster shots, whether for students at Lewis & Clark or for all U.S. citizens as a whole. 

Any discussion of booster shots in the U.S. must first take into account that almost everyone who intends to be vaccinated in the U.S. has been, a conclusion supported by daily vaccination rates that trail off from this spring’s peak every day. At this point, the government lacks both the will and capability to coerce further vaccination. And as a result, it can be assumed that, if a policy of booster shots is implemented, the majority of new American shots will fall under this category. 

If we return from this premise to our previous argument, in which unvaccinated humanity still matches or exceeds the vaccinated population in size, it becomes clear that any notion of American focus on booster shots should, for the time being, be put to rest. 

The first implication that must be drawn from this figure is a purely moral and humanitarian one. What right does a human at LC, an institution with a vaccination rate approaching 100%, have to a third injection when several countries have had vaccination rates under 5%.

Even when the question of at-risk or immunocompromised individuals is considered, the moral calculus remains the same. It goes without saying that there are, of course, numerous individuals that are considered at-risk across the imperial periphery. This feature is largely the result of brutal pollution, exploitation and extraction by imperial nations. This shifts our moral consideration  as Americans even further against booster shots. 

It should be stated that vaccine accessibility is almost entirely an issue of core versus periphery and global north versus global south. Nations with low vaccination rates are almost exclusively ones in the periphery who have a history of foreign domination and exploitation by imperial countries. This exploitation has an unfortunate and telling statistical emphasis on the global south. Any notion that the humans who live on one side of this oppressive divide are somehow more worthy of immune defense is rooted deeply in imperialism and colonialism. It is a blatant devaluation of human life. 

Even if you reject such moral calculations, however, there are plenty of economic reasons to ship the vaccines south instead of sticking them into more immunized arms. As the Biden administration is quickly discovering, American capitalism is built largely on a tenuous network of supply chains spanning across the world. When the ports do not open,  and the ships do not run, the whole economy can spiral out of control in a matter of weeks. As a result of this situation, the vaccination of workers in the periphery is just as critical, if not more so, than the vaccination of shoppers in the imperial core. 

In terms of LC, the issue of booster shots is largely a moot point. The school should not require or encourage them for the time being, for the reasons that have been described. However, when it comes down to the line, it is not the school’s choice. If the Biden administration chooses to provide COVID-19 booster shots to Americans, vaccines that will be useless if not administered, then the only ethical choice would be to take them. We should however, protest and organize so that the consideration of booster shots does not become a full fledged reality, because its implementation would be a moral tragedy. 

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