A year after the pandemic hit, Haiti awaits vaccines amid apathy


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Haiti does not have a single vaccine to offer its more than 11 million people more than a year after the pandemic began, raising concerns among health experts that the well-being of Haitians are being pushed aside. as violence and political instability deepens across the country.

So far, Haiti is expected to receive just 756,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through a United Nations program aimed at ensuring that the countries most in need receive COVID-19 injections. The free doses were scheduled to arrive no later than May, but delays are expected because Haiti missed a deadline and the key Indian manufacturer is now prioritizing an increase in domestic demand.

“Haiti has recently completed some of the essential documentation that are prerequisites for processing a shipment order,” said Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a Geneva-based public-private partnership that co-manages the COVAX-supported effort. by the UN.

The country also did not request a pilot program in which it would have received some of the doses assigned earlier, according to the Pan American Health Organization. However, a spokeswoman praised his other efforts against the pandemic, including strengthening hospital preparedness.

Meanwhile, a human rights research center cited in a new US State Department report found that the Haitian government misappropriated more than $ 1 million in coronavirus aid. The report also accused government officials of spending $ 34 million on “greater opacity,” bypassing an agency charged with approving state contracts.

Lauré Adrien, director general of Haiti’s Ministry of Health, blamed the vaccine’s delay on scrutiny of AstraZeneca injections and is concerned that the country lacks the necessary infrastructure to ensure proper storage of the vaccine, adding that her agency prefers a single dose vaccine. AstraZeneca requires two doses.

“It is no secret that we do not have excellent conservation facilities,” he said. “We wanted to be sure that we had all the parameters under control before receiving the vaccine stocks.

Adrien also noted that all the money his agency received has been properly spent, but said he could not speak on behalf of other agencies. A presidential spokesman did not return calls for comment.

Many poorer countries have experienced long waits for COVAX vaccines as richer countries bought supplies, although most have received at least an initial shipment. Some took matters into their own hands, securing shots through donations and private deals.

The lack of vaccines in Haiti occurs when it reports more than 12,700 cases and 250 deaths, figures that experts believe are not reported.

Perceptions also remain a great challenge.

While face masks remain mandatory in Haitian businesses, airport closures and curfews have long been lifted, and other precautions are rare.

“People don’t really believe in the coronavirus,” said Esther Racine, a 26-year-old mother of two whose father died in the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.

Racine once worked as a housekeeper, but started selling face masks at the beginning of the pandemic, making a huge business with about 800 sales a month. Now, it barely sells 200.

“Look around you,” he said, greeting a maskless crowd that bustled around him in downtown Port-au-Prince. The only customers today are those who need a mask to enter a nearby grocery store, he said, adding that Haitians have other problems in mind: “People worry more about violence than about the virus.”

Ongoing protests and an increase in gang-related kidnappings and killings have some wondering how any vaccinations will be administered given the lack of stability along with a growing number of people who fear leaving their homes.

Many also fear being vaccinated, despite educational campaigns. Additionally, some officials have raised concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has recently come under scrutiny in Europe after a very small number of people who received it developed unusual blood clots.

“We can get the vaccine and then find out with great regret that the stock expired a couple of months later because no one wanted to be vaccinated,” Adrien said.

Among those in Haiti who say they will not be vaccinated is Dorcelus Perkin, a brick factory owner. On a recent morning, the 60-year-old supervised more than a dozen employees working outdoors. No one was wearing personal protective equipment.

“We cannot wear masks in the sun. We would be suffocating, ”he said, adding that the sun kills the virus, something that scientists have not proven.

Perkin also credited his good health with drinking a traditional green tea mixed with salt every day: “I believe more in these remedies than vaccines. I don’t know what’s inside these vaccines. “

International groups are behind most of the COVID-19-related resources and educational campaigns in Haiti, and the Pan American Health Organization provides the government with 500 test kits, along with instructions on laboratory diagnosis and virus detection. It also supplied thermometers, personal protective equipment and other items, including megaphones and batteries, as workers moved to rural areas. In addition, PAHO trained more than 2,800 health workers in Haiti and met with community leaders, including voodoo priests and traditional midwives, to share information on protection measures and treatment centers.

In May 2020, the organization’s director said she was particularly concerned about the effects of a possible large-scale outbreak given Haiti’s fragile health care system and the fact that many live in overcrowded homes and lack access to water. potable. But perplexed experts say the anticipated outbreak has not occurred.

“It’s a surprise to a lot of people,” said Aline Serin, head of mission in Haiti for the international aid group Doctors Without Borders. “At the moment, there is not enough research and documentation to explain why some countries were less affected by severe cases of COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, it is unclear exactly when the country’s first vaccines will arrive, via COVAX.

Haiti is among 92 low-income countries expected to receive them. He’s also among dozens of people to be affected by last week’s announcement of a March and April suspension of deliveries of doses made for the program by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker. , amid a surge in coronavirus cases in India.

When vaccines are available, experts acknowledge that it will be a struggle to put them to arms.

They would have to convince Haitians like Duperval Germain, a 55-year-old carpenter who said neither he nor his children will receive a vaccine. You are worried about getting sick and not being able to get proper medical care.

“All these heads of state who have been here, every time they get sick, they all fly out of here,” he said. “If we got sick, where would we go? They can keep (the shots) for themselves. Use it in places that need it. Haiti does not need the vaccine ”.

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press journalist Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

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