Haiti receives 1st COVID-19 vaccines but political unrest could delay distribution

With 500,000, it's no longer the last country in the Americas without any doses.

July 15, 2021, 11:03 AM

Approximately 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Haiti on Wednesday, meaning it no longer was the only country in the Americas without any. But vaccine hesitancy, to say nothing of the recent violence and political unrest, could delay distribution for weeks.

Both U.S. and Haiti military forces helped UNICEF transport the doses in a mostly clandestine effort necessitated by the surrounding violence. The Moderna vaccines, which will be stored in hundreds of solar-power refrigerators throughout Haiti, were donated by the U.S. government through COVAX and delivered to Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital.

Though grateful, UNICEF representatives said they'll require many more -- and not just in Haiti.

"We hope this first donation of doses will be followed by others," UNICEF said in a statement. "More donations from well-supplied countries will be needed for Haiti and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to reach those most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection."

A UNICEF employee is seen with a solar-powered refrigerator that keeps vaccines cool before they're to be distributed in Haiti.

Distribution is expected to start later this week as local health authorities and aid groups are battling vaccine misinformation that's apparently spreading throughout the country.

Only 22% of all Haitians said they would get vaccinated, according to preliminary results of a UNICEF-supported study conducted by the University of Haiti in June. There's also the ongoing gang violence and political uncertainty following the assassination of Haiti's president.

Violence in June among armed groups escalated in several areas of Port-Au-Prince during a spike of COVID-19 cases. Over 15,000 women and children have been forced to flee their homes.

"Rising insecurity and clashes between gangs," a UNICEF spokesperson said, "have seriously hindered humanitarian operations in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince."

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