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Migrant workers and global vaccine inequality

By: Amy Armenia

July 28, 2021

Global inequalities in vaccine availability threaten the health of individuals, but a larger crisis may be brewing as well.  Migrant workers in global care chains are facing risky environments, or having increasing difficulty starting or returning to jobs abroad without access to vaccines in their home countries. Migrant workers are a crucial segment of the care sector (especially in health care), and the loss of these workers can place additional strain on already overtaxed health care systems.

In their op-ed for the Globe and Mail (republished here on the McMaster University website without paywall), Fay Faraday, Judy Fudge, Jill Hanley, Janet McLaughlin, Chris Ramsaroop, Ethel Tungohan and Anelyse Weiler argue for prioritizing migrant workers for vaccination, noting that most live and work in spaces that put them at high risk for infection.

For those migrant workers who are waiting to travel abroad for work, vaccine shortages are another obstacle to their livelihood, as many countries require vaccination for migrant workers to travel, or to avoid quarantine. In the New York Times, Shalini Venugopal Bhagat, Bhadra Sharma and Saif Hasnat outline these troubles in South Asia where vaccine shortages are acute.

In their op-ed piece in The Hill, Faten Taki, Gunisha Kaur and Stephen Yale-Loehr point to the ways states have used COVID to enact more restrictive immigration policies, as simultaneously structural racism reduces access to vaccines for people in the Global South and North. These inequalities should disturb anyone with a sense of social justice, but we can even argue for vaccine access in self-serving ways. As the authors note, “None of us can be completely safe if any group or nation is left behind.”

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