I got the Pfizer COVID vaccine and I thought I should share why I made the decision to do so. I was willing to set aside the doubts that might arise in my mind because of the uncertainty that prevails around this vaccine, because of suspicion caused by misinformation, and sometimes purely because of the lack of complete knowledge about everything related to the Coronavirus Pandemic, be it, scientific, economic, or social. However, before I explicitly state my reasons, I want to go over some numbers and facts on employment, education and food security.
Currently, there are more than 124 million cases worldwide. If financial and economic news sources are to be trusted, there are approximately 1.6 billion people on the margins of the world economy, a large range of occupations including migrant workers away from home and those employed in the gig economy, who are in immediate danger of losing their livelihoods. This number makes up half the world’s workforce, and immediate loss of work is not the only thing they need to worry about because the certainty of their jobs reappearing, even after COVID is over, is near impossible with the current global economic state.
When the COVID pandemic was at its peak, 160 countries closed schools for 1.5 billion children and young adults. This means 1.5 billion students were out of school causing not only a loss of learning in the immediate term but significantly thinning economic opportunities for this particular batch of students in the future. Taking returns to education into account, this translates into a rough estimate of $10 trillion in earnings lost or in other words, 10% of the global GDP.
When it comes to food security, the situation is even more grim. This pandemic is estimated to have added another 80-130 million people to the total number of undernourished populations in the world during the year 2020.
When the pandemic happened, I was here in the US and I have seen how COVID wreaked havoc inside the world’s superpower. Within the United States, more than 30 million people, over 15% of the workforce, have applied for unemployment benefits in recent weeks. According to NPR, 13.7 million households, or 10.5% of all U.S. households, experienced food insecurity at some point during 2019. According to the Brookings institution, an estimated 13.9 million children lived in a household characterized by child food insecurity. And this is literally some figures from a whole stack of traumatizing numbers.
My home country is Pakistan, where an estimated 125 million people are expected to be thrown below the poverty line due to the global economic shock and the consistent lockdowns. To put that number into perspective: this means more than 50% of the entire population of the country earning less than $2 a day. Furthermore, 40 to 62 million people (20-30% of Pakistan’s population) are experiencing some form of food insecurity. The Asian Development Bank forecasts that the unemployment rate within our country might go from being 8.9 percent to an alarming high of 21.5 percent. The ADB also estimates that young Pakistanis may lose between 1.5 – 2.3 million jobs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and measures being taken to control its spread.
Finally, in the decade before this pandemic hit the world, given below is a list of things I accomplished. I have taken the liberty to cross out some parts, which would not have been possible if COVID was raging throughout the world, so that together we can see how incapacitating this pandemic can be:
- Did my first Umrah (It was a spiritual journey that was deeply intimidating. There are very few places on earth that can really compel you to come face to face with your own self! The true you! And the House of Allah is certainly one such place for me. It is easy to get lost in the ways of the world and forget to think about your actions and intentions as long as the means justify the ends. Not there though, standing in front of the Kaabah, you cannot pretend. And it took courage to not pretend!)
- I went on a World Bank Tax Reform training to Beirut, Lebanon (my first international trip as an independent adult).
- I started my own trust fund which funds the education of young girls, provides food to those in need, helps small businesses, and currently financing the construction of a house for an underprivileged family.
- I launched my own clothing brand “Zehra Farooq Couture” and held a fashion show at Marriott Islamabad. 50% of the proceeds go to the trust established.
- I got the Eisenhower Fellowship 2019.
- I visited Jordan – my first ever unsponsored leisure trip to meet my middle eastern friends, it is an achievement also because it is the first time I swam – well floated – on the dead sea, getting over my fear of open waters.
- I started my own online Blog to document my life.
- I taught and trained a whole batch of FBR tax inspectors for the field.
- Served as a guest speaker at 4 universities in Islamabad.
- Became bilingual: learnt to speak Spanish.
- Got awarded the Fulbright Scholarship.
- Came to the US to get a PhD in Economics.
- I moved across the seven seas to live independently for the first time ever in my life.
- I gave the most important exam of my life, my PhD Comps, while surviving alone through the uncertainty as well as separation anxiety brought on by COVID and the subsequent lockdowns.
- I achieved a new spiritual milestone by finishing the translation of the Holy Quran.
I volunteered for the vaccine because if this brings us a mini-step closer to the world as it were, the world where people were allowed to move freely, at least, to earn for their young ones, to feed their families, it is worth it; even if it comes at a personal cost I incur in the future. It was my decision, which I took to help the world as it is today, while, in the meanwhile, I strive to equip myself with the knowledge and expertise that will allow me to help the world, and the poor, in a much greater way.