In a situation that exemplifies both Haiti‘s economic and political malaise as well as the extreme asymmetry in global vaccine distribution, it has been reported that Haitians continue to wait for a single dose of any of the multiple vaccines that are part of national vaccination programs across the world for COVID-19.
An Associated Press report first revealed this in a publication on Monday. Haiti’s population is about 11 million, one of the largest in the Caribbean only second to Cuba. It was reported last week that Cuba has already developed two advanced COVID-19 vaccines that are awaiting approval. The island is also reporting one of the best case management globally during this pandemic.
The story is very much different and worse only 400 miles from Havana. In Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and largest city, a surging infection rate is compounded by the fact the country has no clear idea when it will receive its allotment of vaccines under the United Nations’ COVAX program. The vaccines were expected in May and would have come from AstraZeneca’s manufacturers at the Serum Institute in India but that country has also been prioritizing local cases.
Haiti may also not be ready to receive vaccines. As the general director of Haiti’s Health Ministry, Lauré Adrien put it: “It’s no secret that we don’t have excellent conservation facilities. We wanted to be sure that we had all the parameters under control before we received vaccine stocks.”
Adrien said Haiti’s lack of conservation facilities would mean one-shot vaccines would be better utilized instead of two-shot vaccine. Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine would be much suitable in Haiti seeing that it also only needs a refrigerator and not a freezer like others.
This lack of a capacity to store is perhaps why the country did not sign up for a pilot program that would have made the country a preferred destination for the earliest distribution of approved vaccines for emergency use.
Initial reports of cases in Haiti indicated that numbers subsided after the virus was first recorded on the island at the end of March in 2020. However, the current surge happened at the beginning of this year. Currently, Haiti is reporting some 11,000 recoveries from a case count of nearly 13,000. 252 have died at the time of going to press.
But the AP report also revealed that many Haitians in the capital can be found without masks. Public sensitization about the coronavirus on the island has been in no small part due to the efforts of the UN and volunteer organizations such as the Haitian Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.
Most Haitians may believe that what is of clear and present danger cannot be an unseen virus but rather political instability that continues to spark violence. President Jovenel Moïse has, despite tides of protests and a mountain-pile of corruption allegations, been ruling by decree, after the country failed to hold legislative elections for both lower and upper houses of the bicameral legislature in October of 2019. The opposition wants him out.
Conclusively, a United States State Department report is also said to be alleging that $34 million, as well as $1 million worth of coronavirus aid, has been spent with the “greatest opacity” by the Haitian government.