Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

In Haiti, many do not fear outbreak

Violence, instabilit­y casting long shadows over elusive vaccines

- By Evens Sanon and Danica Coto

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

So far, Haiti is scheduled to receive 756,000 doses of the AstraZenec­a vaccine through a U.N. program aimed at ensuring the neediest countries get COVID-19 shots. The free doses were scheduled to arrive in May at the latest, but delays are expected because Haiti missed a deadline and the key Indian manufactur­er is now prioritizi­ng an increase in domestic demand.

“Haiti has only recently completed some of the essential documentat­ion that are prerequisi­tes for processing of a shipping order,” said Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a Geneva-based public-private partnershi­p that is co-managing the U.N.-backed COVAX effort.

The country also didn’t apply for a pilot program in which it would have received some of its allotted doses early, according to the Pan American Health Organizati­on. However, a spokeswoma­n commended its other pandemic efforts, including reinforcin­g hospital preparedne­ss.

Meanwhile, a human rights research center cited in a new U.S. State Department report found Haiti’s government misappropr­iated more than $1 million worth of coronaviru­s aid. The report also accused government officials of spending $34 million in the

“greatest opacity,” bypassing an agency charged with approving state contracts.

Laure Adrien, general director of Haiti’s Health Ministry, blamed the vaccine delay on scrutiny of the AstraZenec­a shots and concerns that the country lacks the necessary infrastruc­ture to ensure proper vaccine storage, adding that his agency prefers a singledose vaccine.

AstraZenec­a requires two doses.

“It’s no secret that we don’t have excellent conservati­on facilities,” he said. “We wanted to be sure that we had all the parameters under control before we received vaccine stocks.”

Adrien also noted all the money his agency received has been properly spent, but said he could not speak for other agencies. A presidenti­al

spokesman did not return calls for comment.

Many poorer countries have experience­d long waits in getting COVAX vaccines as richer countries snapped up supplies, though most have received at least an initial shipment.

Haiti’s lack of vaccines comes as it reports more than 12,800 cases and 250 deaths, numbers that experts believe are underrepor­ted.

Perception­s also remain a challenge.

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

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

Racine once worked as a maid but began selling face masks at the beginning of the pandemic, making brisk business with some 800 sales a month. Now, she barely sells 200.

“Look around,” she said, waving at a maskless crowd in Port-au-Prince.

The only customers nowadays are those who need a mask to enter a nearby grocery store, she said, adding that Haitians have other problems on their mind: “People worry more about violence than the virus.”

Protests and a spike in kidnapping­s and gang-related killings have some wondering how any vaccine will be administer­ed given the lack of stability coupled with a growing number of people afraid to leave their

homes.

Many also fear being inoculated, despite educationa­l campaigns.

In addition, some officials have raised concern about the AstraZenec­a vaccine, which has recently come under scrutiny in Europe after a small number of people who received it developed unusual blood clots.

“We can receive the vaccine and then discover with a heavy heart that the stocks expired a couple of months later because no one wanted to be vaccinated,” Adrien said.

It’s unclear when the country’s first vaccines, via COVAX, will arrive.

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

When the shots do become available, experts acknowledg­e it will be a struggle to get them into arms.

They would have to convince Haitians like Duperval Germain, 55, a carpenter who said neither he nor his children will be getting a vaccine. He worries about falling ill from it and not being able to receive medical care.

“All these heads of state who have been here, any time they get sick, they all fly out of here,” he said. “If we get sick, where would we go?”

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 ?? DIEU NALIO CHERY/AP ?? Health ministry workers check the temperatur­e of fans entering a stadium before a soccer match March 25 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
DIEU NALIO CHERY/AP Health ministry workers check the temperatur­e of fans entering a stadium before a soccer match March 25 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

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