Mississippi Indian immigrants ‘frustrated’ as loved ones suffer wave of COVID-19 overseas
At her home in Madison, Mississippi, Amrit Sood opens Facebook and scrolls through a flood of messages from people desperate for ways to help their family and friends in India who are suffering amid an increase in COVID-19 cases.
“Are there any leads to find a ventilator in Delhi or in a nearby hospital?” Please let me know for my aunt, ”read a message from her Mississippi friend.
As the rate of coronavirus infections has slowed in the United States, many other countries, like India, are grappling with high hospitalizations and a low vaccine supply. Meanwhile, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama have the lowest vaccination rates in the countryside. For some Indian immigrants, it is particularly difficult to watch their families die abroad due to lack of hospital equipment and limited vaccine supply, as health officials in the United States try to convince people to get vaccinated.
“It’s frustrating,” said Sood, who was vaccinated in February. “I’m sad that in the Third World they wanted these pictures and couldn’t get them.”
Shalina Chatlani, Gulf States Newsroom
Amrit Sood of Madison, Mississippi, has lost nearly a dozen family members since there was a surge in coronavirus cases in India.
In India, there is a shortage everything from beds to oxygen to medical staff. When the pandemic broke, India did not experience a big wave of coronavirus deaths and exported most of the vaccine supply it produces to other countries. Now, only 12% of its population is vaccinated and thousands people die every day.
Countries like Vietnam and Nigeria were only able to immunize 1% of their population. Others, like Nepal, are extending the closures.
President Joe Biden announced in May that the United States would send 20 million vaccines doses internationally by the end of June. But in the meantime, families watch friends and loved ones die. Sood has lost around a dozen family members in India.
“I can’t keep up with the numbers,” said Sood, who has lived in Mississippi for 45 years. “And it’s hard to imagine, if I go back to India, if I’ll be able to handle this.”
Across the region, more than 17,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been thrown away, as of May 25, according to data acquired from state public health departments. Public health officials reported 11,968 vaccines were wasted in Louisiana, 4,823 in Mississippi and 427 in Alabama.
In April, Alabama health official Scott Harris said the state’s health department must “convince” partners to accept some waste.
“We asked our federal partners to give us coverage on this issue. And they understand that until we can get Pfizer in smaller batches, we’ll have to put up with some waste, ”Harris said.
In May, Mississippi health official Thomas Dobbs told a press conference that the department was advising the same protocol.
“If you have someone in front of you who needs a vaccine, go ahead and use what you have,” Dobbs said. “We know we are at a point where there will be waste.”
Nationally, more than 200,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were wasted between December 2020 and March 2021, according to surveys by Kaiser Santé news. Waste reporting has been inconsistent throughout the pandemic, so that number could be higher.
The Mississippi Department of Health now offers smaller packaging which can help reduce waste. And health officials in Louisiana say they’re trying to redirect unused vaccines to other places in the state that need them, rather than throwing away doses.
This turmoil between conditions in the United States and countries of origin is familiar to many immigrant communities beyond the pandemic.
“I’ve had so many clients whose parents died overseas and they couldn’t leave because they didn’t have papers,” said Patricia Ice, a Mississippi-based immigration lawyer. “It has been going on since I started doing this job.”
VSresulting data results from 2019 show that more than 430,000 foreign-born residents live in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Ice works with clients from India, Yemen, Vietnam, Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Many of her clients want the vaccine and sometimes do not know where to get the vaccine. His law firm has organized events to help them get vaccinated or allay their concerns. But hesitation can affect them too, especially in places like the southern Gulf.
“Some immigrants are surrounded by people who don’t want to be vaccinated,” Ice said. “If your boss is anti-vaccine, if the government tells you that it’s really not that important to get the vaccine, some immigrants are listening.
“Somehow we have to help”
While waiting for the vaccine supply to increase, some Indians in Mississippi are taking matters into their own hands to lack of oxygen.
Dr. Udaya Shivangi, a sleep medicine specialist in Ridgeland, Mississippi, is a member of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Descent. The group participated in efforts to send pulse monitoring devices and oxygen generating machines to India.