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 wellbeing of Haitians is being pushed aside as violence and political instability across the country deepen.
So far, Haiti is slated to receive only 756,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through a United Nations 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 UN-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 US state department report found Haiti’s government misappropriated more than $1m worth of coronavirus aid. The report also accused government officials of spending $34m in the “greatest opacity”, bypassing an agency charged with approving state contracts.
Lauré 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 single-dose 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. Some took matters into their own hands, securing shots through donations and private deals.
Haiti’s lack of vaccines comes as it reports more than 12,700 cases and 250 deaths, numbers that experts believe are underreported.
Ongoing 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.
Perceptions also remain a big 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, a 26-year-old mother of two boys whose father died in the catastrophic 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 bustling around her in downtown 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.”