Epidemiologist: Equitable Vaccine Distribution Key In India

May 24, 2021

India’s crisis continues with 26 million confirmed coronavirus cases and three hundred thousand deaths; thousands more are reported every day. The country’s severe shortage of vaccines reveals the inequities in the coronavirus response between developed and developing nations. Amit Kumar is an epidemiologist at Northern Arizona University who researches health care disparities. He spoke to KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny about how India’s crisis is a global problem—but also deeply personal for him, because he has family and friends there suffering from unimaginable tragedy and fear.   

Credit REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo


You have family and friends who are there in India? How are they doing, are they safe?  

My dad and mom are doing well, they are safe, every day I call them and I tell them, don’t go outside… So they’re doing well. But a lot of my family relatives, my father’s friends, got COVID infected… and some of them lost their life. So it’s quite difficult for them, every day they’re hearing sad news.

What are you hearing from them about what it’s like, living conditions there right now?

Of course, it has affected emotionally, physically, as well as socio-economic-wise…. Watching pictures of people dying without oxygen, pictures of masked funerals on social media and TV, has been heartbreaking and distressing to all of us. Almost all of us living in the US have lost one member of our family or friends back in India. We living in the US are in deep grief and kind of feel helpless.

Describe to me the situation in India right now.

India did a great job in handling the first wave of COVID last year…. They used severe lockdowns, strict lockdowns, in the months of April and May. But as we move—by the end of 2020, India started opening up their market, and then there were several elections…and that kind of led to increasing the number of COVID cases… The second wave of the COVID in India is very different from the first wave… There’s a new variant which is more contagious… and it’s also affecting younger people in India this time.

Are there policies that need to change either in India or internationally to help with that situation?

Vaccination is the only long-term option to getting out of this COVID crisis… This will not only save lives, but also prevent the economy from collapsing. This is very interesting, despite India being the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, it is running out of supplies and confronting new challenges…Their campaigning is not aggressive, their distribution is not aggressive. They’re doing a 9 to 5 job. Whereas in the US we have experienced in the month of January and February, they were giving this vaccine 24 hours 7 days a week. That’s not happening in India…. So there’s a huge shortage of vaccine in India, and India is in a dire need of vaccines now….What I think, this is a global health problem, it’s not only limited to India, what we’re seeing is that there’s unequal distribution of vaccines across the world. The gap is enormous…One in four people have received vaccine in developed countries, compared to 1 in 500 people in poor countries. So equal distribution of vaccine is critically important to end pandemic, this is a global pandemic, and it’s a global effort to fight against it. We are not saving the US if Mexico is not vaccinated or Canada is not vaccinated or India is not vaccinated.

Amit Kumar, thank you so much for speaking with me today.

Thank you so much.