As I sat in Walgreens about to get my second dose of the Pfizer Vaccine, I thought of my Grandma (Vovó in Portuguese) for two reasons. First, now that I am vaccinated I will be able to see her and hug her once I am home in São Paulo, Brazil. Second, while I have effortlessly been able to get both doses of the vaccine, she has yet to take her second dose of AstraZeneca. It felt viscerally wrong that my 86-year-old grandmother, who has had heart surgery and cancer twice, is getting the vaccine after my healthy 20-year-old self, for the mere reason of living in Brazil instead of the United States.
When Joe Biden won the presidency in November, I was in the U.S and I felt the collective sigh of relief rush through everyone around me, including myself. Suddenly science was back, people were getting vaccinated, cases were dropping, things were getting better. But it was only half a sigh of relief, as I thought of my home where we had reached “phase purple.” “It’s a step above red,” my mom clarified. Phase purple, also called the emergency phase, was declared in March after São Paulo reached its worst week of COVID with over 2,500 deaths and 87,000 cases in 7 days. While many of us in the U.S were getting our first doses of the vaccine, São Paulo was in and out of lockdown with some of the worst COVID numbers since March 2020.
Over 400,000 people have died, variants are spreading. Bolsonaro continues to deny science, create false narratives, and the end seems nowhere near sight. Every day, ridiculous headlines featuring Bolsonaro were posted on social media. Bolsonaro once said the Vaccine might make you a crocodile. One day, he was on a boat, and another, he was telling Brazilians to take chloroquine if infected. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has also insisted that COVID is no more than a “little cold.” One widely distributed study by the Lowy Institute ranked countries in how well they dealt with COVID, and Brazil ranked last.
Biden said Americans would be celebrating the 4th of July this summer like normal, but what about everyone else? This year, I have truly understood what it feels like to live in the American bubble. When I flew home in December I felt like I was living in a parallel reality. While I got to get tested for free at Middlebury College every week, a PCR test could cost you up to R$500 in Brazil. Another incredible disparity exists in Brazil between public and private healthcare. One of my friend’s fathers is a doctor at a hospital with both a public and private division. At the beginning of the pandemic, he said that while the public division had no more beds in the emergency room, the private division had plenty of room.
A storm is the perfect metaphor for Brazil’s failure to deal with COVID. Swept in this storm are political confusion, desegregation, and a frail economy. It’s also the multitude of social issues, compounded by the lack of leadership from Bolsonaro, and completely different narratives and plans from government bureaucracies. Last week, Paulo Gustavo, one of the most famous Brazilian comedians died at 42-years-old. Once again, I was reminded of the seemingly endless devastation COVID has brought to my country.