Chine McDonald is a UK-based writer, broadcaster, and head of community fundraising & public engagement at Christian Aid.
She is the author of God Is Not a White Man & Other Revelations, a "part memoir, part social and theological commentary" about McDonald's experience of being a Black woman in the white-majority space of the UK church.
Here, she shares how vaccine inequality is affecting her personally, seeing her own family divided in their access to vaccines just because of where they live.
You can read more from the In My Own Words series here.
Over the past few months, I frequently found myself checking the online vaccine queue calculator to see when I might be offered a COVID-19 vaccine. When I started working on this essay there were between 3 million and 10 million people in the UK ahead of me to get their first dose. I was much nearer to the front of the queue than I was when I first started checking. I received my first dose in the middle of May.
More than 60% of the UK population have now had their second vaccine dose and are fully vaccinated in what has been reported to be the biggest vaccine rollout our nation has ever seen.
It is absolutely incredible. It makes me feel proud to be British. We have come a long way from the dark and terrifying days at the start of the pandemic last year, as we battled an invisible virus that was to kill at least 128,000 people in this nation alone and 3.9 million people globally.
In the UK, we are gradually easing out of lockdown, making plans for the future; meeting friends we haven't seen for months, braving the British weather to huddle together in restaurant gardens and tell our COVID-19 war stories.
Despite the pride I have in the country in which I live, and feel extremely fortunate to have been able to get a vaccine, I think about the injustice of the fact that as a 37-year-old Brit, I received a vaccine before my 86-year-old grandmother, who lives in Nigeria.
Chine McDonald is a UK-based writer, broadcaster and Head of Community Fundraising & Public Engagement at Christian Aid. Here she poses for a portrait in her home on June 13, 2021.
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and moved to the UK when I was four years old with my parents and two younger sisters. Most of our family still lives there, with others spread out around the world. But we remain a tight-knit family, despite being a global one. During lockdown we have made increasing use of digital technology — including a Zoom retirement party for my mum, gathering every few weeks for updates on each others’ lives, and almost daily birthday greetings. When you come from a large global family, it is always someone’s birthday.
Recently, my grandmother managed to join us on a Zoom gathering for my aunt’s 60th birthday celebrations. She looked beautiful; content, yet I am often taken aback by how old she is getting, how frail she looks.
Thinking back to a few months ago, I recall watching news programmes on television in which we saw older British people my grandma’s age receiving their COVID-19 vaccines. After what had been such a terrifying time for all of us, but one in which the oldest and most vulnerable were particularly at risk, it was wonderful to see them being protected before any of the rest of us.
Coronavirus is a global problem that needs a global solution. We are not free of the threat of it, until all grandmothers all over the world are protected.
(L) Chine McDonalds book ‘God Is Not a White Man & Other Revelations,’ is pictured with others at her home. (R) McDonald reads a copy of "New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent" by Margaret Busby.
But yet the sad — or unjust — reality is that it is those countries in the predominantly white global North have bought up vaccines for their own nations. While so much of the UK population has now been vaccinated — just 1% of the population of some of the poorest nations in Africa have received the vaccines. My grandmother is among the 99% of the population in those countries who are still waiting for their turn. While countries in the global North have bought up more vaccines than they need, countries in Africa are running out of the limited supplies they have been given.
The recent spike in COVID-19 infection rates and deaths in India is devastating and a reminder to us all over the world that this deadly virus has not been defeated yet. India too is running out of vaccines for its population, despite being one of the world’s main manufacturers.
It has been devastating to hear accounts from colleagues in India at Christian Aid, where I am head of community fundraising and public engagement, about how the virus is taking its toll on not just our programmatic work, but our staff and their families, too.
As global citizens, we must urge our leaders to work together and think not just about their own nations, but about those from poor and marginalised communities. If ever there was a lesson in global equality, an opportunity for us to show kindness and solidarity to the rest of humanity, then this is the moment. It is a moral issue.
At Christian Aid, we are part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, and in April 2021 worked with others to bring together more than 150 faith leaders who united to call on states and pharmaceutical companies to manufacture and distribute enough vaccines so that the everyone in the world — including my grandmother — can be protected from the virus that threatens us all.
Chine McDonald works from home as the Head of Community Fundraising & Public Engagement at Christian Aid.
The global faith leaders — including Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, and Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Roman Catholic church — urged an end to vaccine nationalism, in a move also backed by the Dalai Lama.
As the 150 leaders said in a joint letter: “We cannot abdicate our responsibilities to our sisters and brothers by imagining that the market can be left to resolve the crisis or pretend to ourselves that we have no obligation to others in our shared humanity. Every person is precious. We have a moral obligation to everyone in every country.”
We are failing in our moral duty if every grandmother’s life is not seen as worthy of protection, no matter where in the world they live.
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