Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Africa’s slow vaccine rollout could endanger millions of lives — on and off the continent.,


Continue reading the main story

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Credit…The New York Times

Of the one billion shots given around the world, 82 percent have been given in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Only 0.2 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries — pockets of infection that can produce variants that put us all in danger.

To understand the situation in a region with one of the lowest inoculation rates — the African continent — we spoke with our colleague Abdi Latif Dahir, a Times correspondent based in Nairobi.

How is the rollout going in Africa?

About 15 million people have received doses, about 1 percent of the continent’s population, and only about 36 million have been acquired. Aside from the Seychelles and Morocco, no other African country has vaccinated more than 5 percent of its population.

The African Union and Covax, a global vaccine-sharing initiative, are the main actors working on the rollout, which has been painfully slow. And there’s an issue. Covax plans to supply only a portion of what countries need. Kenya, for example, hopes to vaccinate 30 percent of its population — nowhere near herd immunity — by 2023. And Covax will cover only the first 20 percent. Kenya will need to pay $130 million to make up the rest.

“Tourism is down,” Abdi said. “There are major lockdowns. Curfews start at 8 p.m., so everyone has to scramble to be home before dark. Where do you even start to think you’ll get $130 million from?”

Why is the continent so behind?

Global histories of exploitation mean that no African country is as wealthy as the Western nations that developed the vaccines, Abdi said. There are no major vaccine production facilities on the continent and Covax, which is meant to restore equity to the process, is failing to deliver.

Shipments are also woefully delayed, mainly because India, the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer, is restricting exports of doses in an effort to control its raging outbreak.

“The big question now is: Where do you get your next batch of doses?” Abdi said.

What are the other challenges to the rollout?

Skepticism. Last December, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing staggering vaccine enthusiasm across the continent: Four out of five people would take a shot if they thought it safe and effective.

“But then, all of a sudden, immediately as the vaccines came into the market,” Abdi said, “we started seeing people being hesitant.”

False theories abounded, often on WhatsApp, but sometimes spread by heads of state. There have also been concerns that people might be distributing fake vaccines, which has happened in South Africa.

But the skepticism was also rooted in a long history of medical malpractice and unethical testing on Africans. Some saw history repeat when two French doctors suggested that the West conduct clinical trials in Africa. The head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, condemned their idea as a “hangover from a colonial mentality.”

What does the rollout look like on the ground?

Officials and health experts planned for receiving and distributing the vaccines, but they didn’t plan successful messaging, Abdi said. There were no campaigns around the rollout, no celebrations of the stunning scientific achievement. Abdi was worried about the rampant hesitancy among doctors in Kenya.

“They were basically saying: ‘We’ve not been engaged yet. We’ve not been educated about this vaccine,'” he said. And the doctors resented that officials put health workers first in line. “‘What happens if I get sick? Is the government going to take care of me?'”

Their initial hesitance fed a widespread lack of confidence, Abdi said. But things are slowly starting to change. Teachers and security officers have started lining up, and now close to 70 percent of health workers have taken a shot, according to one study.

Hesitancy remains, however.

Abdi has a friend, a psychologist who works in a Covid ward at a county hospital. He has seen the disease firsthand, and he knows that if he contracts it, he could die. But he still refuses a shot.

“He’s just so very adamant,” Abdi said. “If health workers are thinking like this, I don’t know how other people in this country aren’t.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in an interview with The Times on Sunday that American tourists who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 would be able to visit the E.U. this summer. The announcement came more than a year after the bloc shut down nonessential travel to limit the spread of the virus.

Ms. von der Leyen did not offer a timeline for when exactly tourist travel might open up or details on how it would occur. But the fast pace of vaccination in the U.S. and the advanced talks between the U.S. and E.U. on vaccination certificates have enabled the switch in policy.

Considering a trip to the E.U.? Here’s what you need to know.

  • Germany plans to make all adults eligible for vaccination starting in June.

  • More than five million Americans, or nearly 8 percent of those who got a first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, have missed their second doses.

  • The governor of West Virginia said the state would give every person between the ages of 16 and 35 who gets vaccinated a $100 savings bond, WBOY reports.

  • In cities across the U.S., there’s a new big job in town: the C.C.O., or Covid compliance officer.

Last weekend, Jonathan and Amelia went to “parties” for the first time. Here’s how it went.

Amelia: My friends and I had a pajama and pizza Oscars party on Sunday. (I loathe a theme; they love a theme.) I almost couldn’t bring myself to reach into the shared popcorn bowl, but vaccines work and we could nosh in peace. (Also, I made Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies, but added half a cup of shredded coconut and a few handfuls of bittersweet chocolate chips. They’re the best bake sale sweets I know. I highly suggest you do the same.)

Jonathan: I went to my first indoor gathering with a few vaccinated friends in Brooklyn. The apartment was full of plants, naturally — a beautiful Covid nursery. A few guests brought along their pandemic hobbies. My friend Jacob spent part of the night crocheting a baby blanket on the couch. I showed off pictures of my nano aquarium. We talked about breakups, summer plans and the side effects of the second shot. When it was time to go I called a cab and left the apartment. I forgot my mask and asked the driver if he had a spare, so I wouldn’t have to go back inside and find one.

“Vaccinated?” he asked.

“Two shots,” I said.

“It’s OK,” he said. “Get in.”

So I did.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

Sign up here to get the briefing by email.

Leave a Reply