Even as I type this, thousands of vaccines are making their way to my state. Public health officials and elected leaders have issued guidance for distribution, and Americans will patiently wait their turn.
With the exception of the division of land among early explorers/settlers, never in US history have we had such an opportunity to deliver social justice. This year political and civic unrest has ignited -again- conversations about how we can possibly restore what has been taken from human beings on our own soil. Reparations.
I’m not a public health official. I’m not a government official. Nobody will ask me what I think.
I see the glimmering opportunity, as thin as the flame of a birthday candle. I can’t help wondering what might happen if we delivered the vaccine in accordance with the amount of damage we have caused to humanity.
Phase 1: People of Color
Start with indigenous communities, whose land our ancestors robbed and pillaged. Restore a modicum of health as a symbol of our remorse.
Next, Black communities, upon whom our nation enforced brutal servitude, segregation, incarceration. Statistically we know that Black people die at higher rates across the board: at the hands of police, at the hands of healthcare professionals who cannot see themselves in their patients, at the hands of poverty. We are complicit, and if we are going to say that #BLM, let’s communicate unequivocally that Black Lives Matter so much that they deserve the first chance of surviving this pandemic.
Then, other communities of color. Latinx communities, who experience discrimination, disproportionate health outcomes and police harassment at levels roughly 33% higher than those in white communities. Asian communities, for whom hate crimes have exploded since the onset of the pandemic. And of course, anyone from a “shithole country” who came here and worked hard over generations because they believed in the American dream.
Phase 2: People who have been failed by capitalism
While we’re talking about the American dream, let’s also roll out the vaccine to anyone who sleeps outdoors or in a shelter. We can, perhaps for the first time this century, see the error in the notion that if someone just works hard enough, they can make it in America. The pandemic has laid that lie bare, and it is our responsibility to correct it.
Also in this phase, we should include all those people working minimum wage jobs and putting themselves in harm’s way every day. Remember when coronavirus hit, and all we could talk about was how amazing grocery store workers are? Let us not forget now. And if we need money to subsidize these vaccines, we can take it from the tax incentives we offer to the big box stores, who make their profit on the backs of underemployed workers, and who have profited exorbitantly from coronavirus.
Finally, in this phase, let us include service workers, particularly restaurant employees. So many of them have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, and so many of them, if vaccinated, can join the gig economy and pick up hours driving, caretaking, dog walking, and serving as personal assistants. Just for once, let’s truly make the economic possibilities for this hard-working demographic endless.
Phase 3: All others
At this point, we can roll out the vaccinations in accordance with the thoughtful plans of our public health and elected officials. Healthcare workers need to be well, senior citizens and disabled citizens in congregate living facilities deserve protection. I would add, selfishly, social service agencies, which have been inundated by need, might merit consideration in this phase. Among my four paid coworkers are two sexagenarians, one septuagenarian, and one octogenarian… and only a handful of days off between them since March.
We live in America.
I know this proposal is extreme, easy to dismiss, and it will be dismissed.
And yet, I can’t help but wonder