The Omicron variant has led to a registered 300 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, reminding us that as much as we’d like for this pandemic to be over, we must still be vigilant about protecting others’ health and lives through our own exposure choices. Many people in our organizations would not be able to advance in our organizations if working from home wasn’t an option, making it a top equity issue. While many people’s lives have changed, we want to examine an unaccounted-for impact of the pandemic in India and the U.S., and how it could be lessened everywhere. With over 120,000 children in the U.S. losing a parent to Covid, more and more children are being left orphaned. But just like many disparities in the U.S. that place minorities at a cruel disadvantage at the start of their lives, 65% of the children orphaned were of a racial or ethnic minority group, even though they only account for 39% of the population. A study found that “for every one white American child orphaned, 1.8 Hispanic American children, 2.4 Black Americans and 4.5 Native Americans and Native Alaskans were struck.”
These numbers are not random. We know that people in predominantly Black counties have been dying of COVID-19 at six times the rate of those in predominantly white counties because years of inequitable health services leave Black folks with a disproportionate level of medical conditions to start with. This inflated rate of orphanhood for minority children severely limits their access to intergenerational wealth and maintains the cycles of poverty people of color are trapped in by governmental neglect. This means that if our diversity and equity training and initiatives do not address this inequity, it isn’t as effective as we would like it to be.
In India, while 577 children have been marked as losing both their parents, nonprofits worry that there are thousands more who have been unaccounted for. The deaths of thousands of Indian parents leave children susceptible to trafficking or winding up on the streets, and yet so many of these disasters could have been avoided if there had been an accessible global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Instead, rich countries backed by Big Pharma investments continue to block the COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver. Rooted in colonialism, countries such as the U.S., Norway, Germany, and Switzerland clearly value profit over the lives of people in the Global South, and only prolong the pandemic as a result.
However, a couple of weeks ago the Indian government gave “emergency approval to the new low-cost, patent-free vaccine called Corbevax” which scientists developed to break through the unaffordable monopoly Pfizer and Moderna have had over vaccines. As companies consider their own COVID-19 policies during another surge in cases worldwide, let us think about how we put people over profit.
What kind of lobbying or advocacy can your company take on to promote vaccination access in the Global South? Could your companies donate to the vaccine rollout? What family and sick leave do you provide for employees at every level? How do you prioritize the needs of disabled folks (the number of which only increases as more people develop long-covid) in your workplaces and recruitment processes? How can you make your policies equitable in such a way that they could actually save lives?