I've been vaccinated. My family in Iran is still waiting for their first doses.

g.h Ali 19 May 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Province of British Columbia on Flickr

This piece is a creative Opinion piece, blending elements of creative writing and journalistic writing.

Everyone remembers the empty supermarket shelves and silent streets that seemed colder as time went by. It almost felt as if life had stopped, and the clocks paused for everyone to just gather their thoughts, even if it was for a second. All hope was not lost – funding was poured into vaccine development and researchers throughout the world managed to create not just one, but several, all under a year. The return to normality looms ever closer to us. But not for everyone.

“The Iranian people are stoic. They have suffered political troubles, war and oppression. A pandemic is nothing to them now.”

I recall too fondly my mother asking me to come home when the pandemic scare first occurred. I was living alone in my accommodation and far from Tehran. She was convinced I would starve to death because the news showed stores stripped of all their produce. I was puzzled. Weren’t people in Iran also running around, fighting for toilet paper, and bulk buying meat and oil?

“With what money my love? The prices have become so much higher. It’s almost impossible for people to regularly buy meat, let alone stock up. These countries have the economy. We don’t.” Meaning, the powerful economy which has allowed much of the West to develop and secure vaccines.

I have English class with Nima every Thursday. He’s a respected veterinarian in Karaj and my friend’s husband. I excitedly ask him if he’s getting vaccinated. As a doctor, he should be part of the first priority group. He hesitates and shakes his head.

“How come? I thought they are vaccinating doctors first?”

“They are, my dear.”

“Don’t you qualify? I swear, in the UK and USA they’re doing it for vets?”

He gives a soft smile. “Vets in Iran have agreed to allow all medical practitioners to get vaccinated first since they’re dealing with people. We may not have enough to go around after all, and who knows when we’ll get them again?”

It’s cold outside for once. My parents ask me if I could return back to Canterbury. I was surprised. The virus was still at large and flights to the UK were hardly available. There was one Iran Air flight available every month, and it would get booked up.

“They’ve started vaccinating people there. Maybe you can get the vaccine. You know we might not here, not anytime soon, be it sanctions or politics or the economy. But maybe you can get it. It’s worth a try.”

Leah walks out in a tank top. She’s used to the UK weather, I’m not. I ask her absentmindedly if she’s receiving the vaccine anytime soon. She stops before answering.

“I mean, why should I? I just don’t see the point. Vaccines can be dangerous. I’ve had none, and I’m alright. I think we should all rely on herd immunity honestly. Besides, I feel like the pandemic is being made into a bigger deal than it really is. Is it really that bad?”

I turn away. I guess sometimes people don’t realise that it is that bad.

My mother calls me. She looks bored on the video call.

“Everywhere is closed in Tehran. Third lockdown of the month. Nowruz made everything worse. The curfew has been changed to 9 pm again. Traffic is crazy like you wouldn’t believe. They finished vaccinating 800,000 people, and that’s one dose. They’ve run out, and can’t get anymore, at least not for a good while. Politics is a strange thing darling, don’t bother yourself over it. At least we don’t have one billion people like China or India, God is good to us.”

On 17 April I received my first dose of AstraZeneca. As of May 2021, I am one of the 0.4% of my population who has received the vaccine. Most people don’t realise privilege isn’t just about gender, religion, or postcode. Sometimes it’s tied to the colour of your passport and the politics of your country, and that’s when it gets more difficult.

According to a BBC article, rich nations – such as Canada, the USA and the UK – have hoarded 53% of world vaccines, despite having 14% of the world’s population. Iran has silently suffered throughout the pandemic – from shortages of medical equipment to economic crashes, and finally the more recent vaccine issue. Although the UN declared that Iran was to receive vaccines despite the US sanctions, there is no doubt that the country is facing a vaccine shortage due to “vaccine hoarding” by first-world countries – and they are not the only ones. For decades, academics have been pushing for the acknowledgement of first world or “western” privilege. From works of literature by theorists such as Edward Said and University degrees, there is no doubt that a disparity exists between the first world and what is still the third world, and it took a global pandemic to realise that.

The pandemic is scary. Scientific innovation can feel scary. Propaganda is everywhere and you never know who to trust. I’m not asking for anyone to get vaccinated against their will. Bodily autonomy exists in law, and people have a right to decide. However, I am asking everyone to take a step back and realise a world exists behind these developed borders, the sight of which has become all too familiar.

“Salam azizam, how are you? You know your grandfather finally got vaccinated? Sweden and Denmark gave us their unwanted AstraZeneca vaccines and now over 80s are finally receiving the vaccine. Isn’t that great? Me and your father? Oh, since we’re only 50, they say earliest October 2021, if God is willing…”