The US and its allies are starting to send about 1 billion doses to Latin America, Africa and Asia. Local workers say there are still major barriers to making sure vaccines are not wasted.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Two point six billion – that’s how many doses of COVID-19 vaccines have made it into the arms of people around the world, many in the richest countries. Meanwhile, many low and middle income countries are still stuck with no vaccines. MediaFrolic’s Will Stone reports on the waiting game.
WILL STONE, BYLINE: When doctors in the US celebrated their second COVID vaccinations, Dr. Marcela Lazo Escalante that her father, a pediatrician in Peru, went door to door to see patients. Eventually he caught the virus.
MARCELA LAZO ESCALANTE: He passed infections on my brother and they were both in intensive care. And they didn’t make it.
STONE: That was in February, and now Peru has the highest number of per capita deaths from COVID-19 in the world.
LAZO ESCALANTE: Everyone has a story about the death of COVID in Peru – everyone.
STONE: But even now, less than 10% of the 30 million or more Peruvians are fully vaccinated. In African countries, vaccination coverage tends to be even lower and infections are increasing rapidly.
STEVEN NERI: I mean, we’re really getting crushed.
STEIN: Steven Neri lives in Namibia and leads public health programs in Africa for the humanitarian group Project Hope.
NERI: Oxygen is scarce. In many countries, intensive care beds are scarce IF not all are occupied. And the vaccine isn’t available.
STONE: It reminds Neri of what he saw there in the early years of HIV / AIDS. Africans could get tests and advice but not medication, so they are waiting for help from more affluent countries.
NERI: And it doesn’t work.
STONE: That could finally change. The US wants to send half a billion cans to needy countries from August. These syringes are distributed through COVAX, the global vaccine distribution program. Despite its ambitions, COVAX has only dispensed about 90 million doses worldwide. Deliveries are expected to ramp up in the fall, but there is still a lot of uncertainty. Gian Gandhi of UNICEF, one of the groups behind COVAX, says this is making it difficult for countries to prepare.
GIAN GANDHI: Without knowing the cans will be there, you are understandably reluctant to use the limited resources to prime the pump.
STONE: All the logistics that need to be in place – training health workers, setting up the cold chain, advertising so people know there are gunshots.
GANDHI: We have focused a lot on delivering vaccines, and right now we need to focus more on the more mundane things.
STONE: Otherwise, a flood of vaccines could arrive and countries may not be able to use all of them. And there are already some examples of countries that return or destroy shots. However, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says these concerns are not only exaggerated, but also detract from the real problem.
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TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: There is no vaccine. You can’t even talk about delivery or absorption capacity if there is no vaccine.
STONE: According to Tedros, COVAX has been working closely with countries since the fall to determine exactly how they will fire the shots.
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TEDROS: What I want to reassure those willing to give vaccines is that we have done our homework.
STONE: And the WHO says that countries in the Global South have a lot of experience and success with vaccinations against other infectious diseases. Dr. Jarbas Barbosa is Deputy Director of the Pan American Health Organization.
JARBAS BARBOSA: The countries in Latin America, for example – when they get the vaccine, they use the vaccine very, very quickly.
STONE: WHO also says vaccination delay issues may be exaggerated. Over in Uganda, Elijah Okeyo of the nonprofit International Rescue Committee says it was difficult to get people to shoot in the spring. But now…
ELIJAH OKEYO: Recording is not a problem. You go to different facilities and meet crowds looking for vaccines.
STONE: He’s hoping they’ll have a place to find her soon.
Will Stone, MediaFrolic News.
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