Opening America’s Doors Only to the Vaccinated Isn’t Good Enough
Last week, the Biden administration announced that it was in the process of opening up America’s borders. For the past year, international families have been kept apart on the basis of policies which seem to have only the slightest connection to public health. But the border opening will come with a catch: To travel to the United States, international travelers must be vaccinated against COVID-19. The policy will be a de facto ban on travel from the developing world in general, and from Africa in particular.
In the U.S., the last few months have been spent trying to coax, cajole, and coerce the most reluctant among us to get vaccinated. But the situation is very different in many parts of the world. As of mid-July, only about 1 percent of Africans had been vaccinated. This isn’t because the other 99 percent have been offered vaccines and chosen not to get them. The shots simply aren’t available. It’s possible that shots won’t be available to the average citizen of an African country for a long time to come.
It’s no real tragedy, perhaps, if someone’s trip to Disneyland ends up getting canceled because he doesn’t have access to a vaccine. But it is a tragedy to cut the majority of a continent off from cultural and economic exchange with the rest of the world. Last year sent Africa spiraling into its first recession in 25 years, with growth plummeting to -3.3 percent. The price of food became dangerously high for a continent where food insecurity has long been endemic. American imports of African goods dropped by a little over 20 percent last year—no small thing, given that the U.S. has historically been sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest trading partner outside the continent.
The border closures and economic shutdowns have been devastating to many African countries in a way that the virus itself has not yet been. In a place where many were barely making ends meet, 29 million people slid into e
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