The false promise of a new normal

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A person puts a mask on a child. Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

When I think back to my first days on campus a couple of weeks ago, I remember hearing some familiar, yet unsettling statements.

“You all made it through a difficult 18 months,” heard in a socially distanced crowd outdoors. 

“It feels great to be back here finally teaching you all in person,” proclaimed by a masked professor in a 250-student lecture hall. 

This semester, over 90% of UConn students are vaccinated against COVID-19 with one of three widely available vaccines. At this point, it makes sense that students are ready to get back to normal. The last academic year was undoubtedly difficult, and the incredible vaccination rates on campus are a glimmer of hope for us all as the campus returns to nearly full capacity. 

However, it would be naive to ignore the reality of the situation. COVID-19 rates have been steadily rising over the past few weeks in Connecticut and across the country, as mask-wearing fades and “COVID fatigue” takes over. 

Unfortunately, our experience in the wealthy world is just the tip of the iceberg. Looking beyond the U.S. reveals a darker side to the pandemic. Vaccination rates in the Global South remain dangerously lower than those in wealthier countries, which has implications for all of us.

It would be naive to ignore the impact imperialism has on vaccine distribution and access. Rich countries have economic and political leverage that allows them to obtain vaccines in numbers far greater than they actually need, preventing less powerful nations from inoculating their populations.

Earlier in the pandemic, a program called COVAX was created, in part by the World Health Organization, in order to target vaccine disparity and ensure that at least 20% of each country’s population receives a COVID-19 vaccine. However, many scientists and doctors predict that most countries will not have adequate access to vaccines until 2022 or 2023.  Even programs like COVAX are unable to fill the gaps created by the imperialistic hoarding of vaccines by wealthy countries.

The issue this causes is dangerous for all of us: The more the virus is allowed to ravage the Global South – and unvaccinated individuals in general – the more likely it is for new mutations to completely nullify the progress we have made so far. Until we achieve herd immunity globally, all of us are vulnerable to the variations and increased spread that may result from a largely unvaccinated world. Assuming the pandemic is over is a dangerous Eurocentric view that ignores how deeply connected our world is in this global age and how much responsibility we owe each other. 

While the prospect of huge get-togethers, unmasked events and a return to normal is exciting, we owe it to each other here on campus and around the world to help slow the formation and spread of new COVID-19 mutations and variants. 

America is built on the principles of individual rights and freedoms, but it is important to remember  responsibilities to society too. We are all part of a plethora of communities — our campus, our hometowns, our states and our world. While most of us here are able to receive incredible vaccines, many people in our communities do not have access to the same resources. We’re used to driving sober to protect others on the roads with us and going through painfully long TSA lines at the airport to make our flights safe. Likewise, it is our responsibility to do what we can to keep our fellow Huskies (and our world) healthy and safe.

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