Interview: Iris Diggle And Tyan Lee Are On a Mission to Stamp Out Vaccine Inequality
Updated: Sep 16
Iris and Tyan - founders of "Vaccine for A Vaccine" - weigh in on the current vaccination rollout process, and the need for equity in vaccine distribution
Can you tell us what Vaccine for a Vaccine is and why you started it?
Sure! We’re a student-led campaign that advocates for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines during this crucial juncture in the pandemic. We decided to start it in response to the appalling inequality we’ve seen in vaccine distribution, whereby – up until now – up to 82% of vaccines have been distributed solely to higher-income countries.
We believe that we can – and must – do better.
Recently, we came to the realization that if everyone who got a vaccine donated one to someone without access to them, we could help end the pandemic and save lives along the way.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres puts it, vaccine equity is the ‘biggest moral test’ of our time. We either cross the finish line together, or we don’t at all.
How exactly does Vaccine for a Vaccine work?
We spread awareness through social media, and provide a really easy platform to donate on our website, vaccineforavaccine.org! There, you can read the key facts about the pandemic and donate to an organisation of your choosing, be it the WHO Response Fund, MSF Save The Children, or Vaccinaid.
So far, we’ve raised the equivalent of 144 AstraZeneca vaccines through our outreach! That’s 144 more people getting vaccinated across the world - we couldn’t be happier.
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how, as richer countries – predominantly those in the Western World – get access to vaccines quicker, COVID-19 might become a “third-world” virus, whereby poorer countries – which have already faced disproportionate economic hits from the pandemic – will be the ones without any vaccines, and as such won’t be able to reopen their economies. Do you believe that this is a possibility? And if so, how can governments and NGOs help to ensure this doesn’t occur?
Unfortunately, this is a very real and likely outcome if we continue down our current path of vaccine distribution. Scientists predict that COVID-19 could become endemic in certain communities in the Global South, which have already seen unnecessarily large losses of life and economic disruption due to a lack of vaccination programs, infrastructure and aid.
NGOs and governments can do their part by directly sending medical supplies, workers, and aid and establishing vaccination programs in lower-income countries. It is also imperative that wealthy countries stop the practice of ‘vaccine hoarding’ – whereby they hold onto extra vaccines and refuse to distribute them to countries in need.
On an individual level, there is so much each of us can do to help ensure vaccine inequality is stamped out worldwide. You can write to your local representative and urge them to take action, or donate to one of the NGOs on our website, all of which are working to help vaccine programs thrive.
Beyond this, it is up to each of us to spread the word. Share posts and articles on the topic. Talk to our peers. It is important to remember that just because vaccine inequality may not effect you personally, it is having a devastating effect on many people in the Global South.
Vaccine scepticism has started to crop-up on all sides of the political aisle, with around 20% of those surveyed in a recent COVID States Project survey stating they would be hesitant to receive their vaccination. What can be done to help persuade people holding out to get the vaccine?
While it’s true that vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine sentiment have cropped up recently, we are glad that doctors and medical professionals have come out in large numbers to assure the public that the vaccine is safe. Government-sponsored programs providing incentives to people to get vaccinated have also helped boost numbers.
We believe that, ultimately, vaccine hesitancy has and will continue to decline as more and more people get vaccinated.
Finally, how can those interested get involved with Vaccine for a Vaccine?
You can follow us on Instagram @vaccineforavaccine, or visit our website, vaccineforavaccine.org. We also encourage you to share our stories and posts. Our campaign really does rely on you!
Thanks for having us, and we hope you join our movement for a better, more equitable future.