Inflammation and stories on vaccines

COVID-19 Vaccination in Qatar
Located on the waters of the Persian Gulf, Qatar has an estimated COVID-19 vaccination rate of about 87%, administering more than 4.9 million doses to its people. It is a population percentage much higher than a number of other countries, including the United States, where just 59% of U.S. citizens are fully vaccinated.

Statistics

Qatar has fewer than 2.5 million inhabitants, more comparable to U.S. states like New Mexico or Kansas. Additionally, it seems that a higher vaccination rate has made a difference when it comes to the Middle Eastern country’s efforts to fight COVID-19. Cases are currently at around 8% of what Qatar had during its time of peak infections, dating back to May 2020 when there were a reported 2,300 new infections each day.

According to Qatar’s government communications office, the country has reported some 150 new coronavirus cases by late November 2021, with more than 100 of those afflicted ultimately recovering. Since the start of the pandemic, Qatar has reported a total of 242,000 cases, with 239,000 recoveries and 611 deaths.

Qatar’s infection rate has climbed a bit in recent weeks. Additionally, while the country’s efforts are better than some of its neighbors, like Yemen — which had climbed to 11% of its peak before dropping again — Qatar is behind others, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, which reported between 1% and 2% of their respective peaks.

Bahrain, for example, averages a little more than 20 new infections per day in a recent week, with 87% of the country completely vaccinated. Saudi Arabia has more than 35 new infections each day with 69% fully vaccinated. Oman is averaging about seven new infections daily with a 59% vaccination rate.

The UAE reported just fewer than 80 new infections each day with a vaccination rate of more than 100%. Yet, Yemen has kept its numbers mostly under control — reporting a half-dozen new infections each day despite just a little more than 1% of its population being fully vaccinated.

Precautions

The U.S. has shared with those living or visiting Qatar the precautions the country has implemented since July 2020 to help limit the spread of the coronavirus there. That includes a little bit of technology — a smartphone app called Ehteraz used for contact tracing.

The country also limits the number of people allowed in cars, and how far athletes can travel to participate in sports. Of course, there are requirements for face masks and social distancing. Anyone not abiding by these rules faces stiff fines and potential jail time.

Qatar is currently in what it describes as its fourth phase of reopening, allowing some gatherings and small groups, and the elimination of masks in open public places, except where otherwise required — like in organized public events, schools and mosques.

Currently, the State Department has a travel heath advisory of Level 3 due to the number of COVID-19 cases in the country. It advises anyone entering the country to be fully vaccinated.

Vaccine Distribution

Despite what appears to be high COVID-19 vaccination rates in Qatar, a study published in the National Library of Medicine in May 2021 suggests about 20% of the country’s population does not want the coronavirus vaccine. Surveys occurred in November 2020, before vaccines had received government approvals in many countries, including the United States, and when people were still building knowledge about the safety of the vaccine. The survey involved more than 7,800 adults.

Since then, Qatar has approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use and is available to everyone for free. However, the Qatari government recommends those at higher risk — such as the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions, as well as health care workers — are first in line.

COVID-19’s Impact on Qatar’s Economy and People

The effects of COVID-19 have, for obvious reasons, reduced worldwide travel. This has led to OPEC reporting its lowest demand for oil in 30 years. The heaviest impacted sectors of Qatari society include manufacturing, real estate and transportation. Finance and construction also have experienced a moderate impact on Qatar’s expected gross domestic product, according to KPMG International.

How Qatar is Doing its Part

During the Global Vaccine Summit in June 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was at its worst, Qatar pledged the equivalent of $20 million in U.S. currency to GAVI. GAVI is an international vaccine organization that intends to help underserved countries in the world through the global COVAX initiative.

The money Qatar donated was double its earlier pledge of $10 million that lasted from 2016-2020. The money from 2016-2020 went directly to GAVI with no funding for COVAX. GAVI will distribute the money evenly with $10 million going to funding GAVI’s core programs from 2021-2025 and the other $10 million will help finance the COVAX AMC initiative10.

COVID-19 vaccination in Qatar is at remarkably high levels. The vaccine and other measures still in place in the country have dramatically reduced the number of active and new coronavirus cases in the country to a fraction of their peaks in the summer of 2020.

– Julian Smith
Photo: Unsplash

taiwans-vaccine-rollout-what-you-need-to-know
Many consider Taiwan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to be a success story. Even with a population of 23 million and proximity to China, the island nation managed to avoid aggressive lockdowns and to date has reported only 846 deaths. The success of Taiwan is due in large part to the government’s immediate and effective response that in turn demonstrated a sense of seriousness in the public’s response to mask mandates and contact tracing protocols. Additionally, Taiwan’s vaccine rollout is well on its way in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

A Successful Approach

After the first confirmed case on January 21, 2020, Taiwan implemented a contact tracing program that tracks the travel and contact history of each patient. Using strict quarantine procedures for travelers coming into the country, health officials can rapidly identify and separate the at-risk and infectious individuals.

To ensure its citizens have easy access to personal protective equipment (PPE), the Taiwanese government increased the production of surgical-grade masks by 850% and shipped them to stores nationwide at a low cost. Taiwan also benefited from its public health campaign that informed the public twice a day of changes to travel and quarantine policies, along with healthcare response efforts and other relevant information.

Vaccination Rates At a Glance

As of September 8, 2021, 45.2% of Taiwan’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 4.3% have received both doses. Data indicates that vaccines administered per 100 people from July 5 to August 12, 2021, remained above 0.4%.

The number of vaccine doses administered continues to climb as Taiwan’s vaccine rollout widens. Similar to their pandemic response, the Taiwanese government has taken several steps to assure its citizens have access to the vaccine.

Homegrown Fight

On Monday, August 23, 2021, Taiwan kick-started its vaccine rollout for the domestically developed coronavirus vaccine after President Tsai Ing-wen received her first dose. The Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp developed the vaccine, which received emergency approval on July 19, 2021.

Phase 2 clinical trials showed no major safety concerns and produce 3.4 times the level of antibodies compared to the AstraZeneca vaccine. Phase 3 trials had received confirmation to begin by July 2021, in hopes of having the vaccine receive international recognition.

To date, Taiwan’s government has purchased 5 million doses of the Medigen vaccine, with large numbers of younger Taiwanese citizens and foreigners signing up for vaccination.

International Help

Taiwan has not been alone in its effort to vaccinate its population. International allies like Japan and the U.S. have donated roughly 5 million vaccines to date. Poland and Lithuania have also donated 400,000 and 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines respectfully.

The Taiwanese government has also signed contracts to purchase 20 million vaccines including 5.05 million doses from Moderna, 10 million of AstraZeneca and 4.76 million doses through the COVAX initiative. As a result of Taiwan’s effective pandemic response and vaccine rollout, life in Taiwan has been able to maintain some normalcy. Not surprisingly, many hail Taiwan’s response as a pandemic success story.

– Sal Huizar
Photo: Flickr

Delay in Administering Booster Shots
In early September 2021, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other WHO officials called for a delay in administering booster shots until the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more accessible to low-and middle-income countries. While wealthier nations are already offering booster shots to their fully vaccinated citizens to protect against COVID-19, other low-income countries, such as the African nation of Burundi, are just recently rolling out their first round of vaccines. WHO officials argue that these doses of booster shots would be more beneficial in ending the global pandemic if countries allocate them to developing nations instead.

Prioritizing Developing Nations

This is not the first time WHO officials called for a delay in administering booster shots as Ghebreyesus previously recommended the postponement of boosters until at least the end of September 2021. However, with many nations disregarding this request, the WHO is now calling for nations to pause booster shots until the end of 2021.

Burundi, a poverty-stricken country in Africa, has noted more than 12,000 cases of COVID-19 as of September 1, 2021. However, Burundi accepted its first supply of COVID-19 vaccines only in August 2021. Thus, at this point, a significant portion of the nation remains unvaccinated. These circumstances stand in stark contrast to countries such as Israel that are now offering booster shots to all vaccinated individuals ages 12 and older.

Each booster a nation dispenses comes with opportunity costs. Researchers argue that every booster shot a nation administers constitutes an inoculation that could go toward vaccinating an individual from an underdeveloped nation. These booster shots in wealthier countries ultimately deprive many at-risk populations within low- and middle-income countries of a chance at surviving COVID-19. Without a majority vaccinated population, these nations struggle to thwart the overall spread of the virus in their countries.

The Need for Booster Shots

While Ghebreyesus accepts that higher-risk portions of the population may benefit from booster shots, he believes boosters are unnecessary for low-risk groups. “We do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated,” he said. Furthermore, WHO officials maintain that there is a lack of evidence to suggest that booster shots are beneficial for protecting against COVID-19. Until this proof is available, vaccine doses will likely be more useful if the world prioritizes redirection and distribution of these shots to developing nations.

Compliance for the Moratorium on Boosters

Despite the initial failure of the first moratorium placed on booster shots, WHO officials believe that this time, nations are taking the moratorium more seriously. WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward has stated that several countries are taking this plea into consideration, delaying their distributions of booster shots. Additionally, some vaccine manufacturers are pledging to supply lower- and middle-income countries with vaccines rather than wealthier nations that already have an ample supply.

As of September 1, 2021, about 73% of the global population was not vaccinated. Many of these unprotected individuals come from underdeveloped nations with lacking resources. Meanwhile, several wealthy nations are administering booster shots to healthy individuals. As the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to prioritize global vaccine equity as even one nation without adequate protection from COVID-19 means the whole world is without protection.

– River Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Vaccine Distribution in Latin America
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Latin America hard. As of July 2021, about 1.3 million people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have died from COVID-19 alone, showing the devastating toll that the virus has had on families throughout the region. With such a high death toll and the introduction of new, more dangerous variants of the original virus, the question of vaccine distribution in Latin America has been a topic of discussion among health experts.

Throughout Latin America, vaccination rates overall have remained lower than world averages. Some countries such as Uruguay have a higher vaccination rate. As of September 16, 2021, the country has administered 171.68 doses per 100 people. Chile’s vaccination rate is second to Uruguay, with 159.65 doses administered per 100 people. The two countries with the lowest vaccination rates are Nicaragua, with 10.97 doses per 100 people and Haiti, with 0.44 doses per 100 people.

Vaccine distribution in Latin America unequivocally varies per country. These discrepancies are problematic in combatting the disease throughout the region. Many of the regions with low vaccination rates have some of the highest mortality rates as well, which has caused more need for the vaccine.

Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released a report in April 2021 detailing vaccination distribution in Latin America. It included its recommendations and the challenges that Latin America needs to overcome to increase vaccination rates and better the population’s overall prospects. UNESCO gave strategies for vaccination, focusing on impoverished areas that have higher mortality rates. Yet, UNESCO also projects that only approximately a third of people in Latin America and the Caribbean will receive vaccinations by the end of 2021.

Guillermo Anllo, a UNESCO program head for Latin America and the Caribbean, spoke to Reuters in early August. Anllo emphasized how crucial equity is to the distribution of vaccines in Latin America. The pace of vaccination has been slow in the region as a whole due to structural issues. For example, the highest income countries throughout the world have vaccination rates that are 30 times faster than the countries that have the lowest incomes.

Furthermore, economies have experienced damage during the pandemic, especially those in the Caribbean who rely on tourism. This damage to tourism has a ripple effect on the purchasing power of the countries’ governments to obtain more vaccinations, slowing the process in this way as well.

Efforts to Increase Vaccine Distribution

Worldwide organizations and agencies have sent aid to Latin America throughout the spring of 2021. Most recently, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has vowed to increase access to vaccines and to help minimize transmission of COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean. This plan comes from PAHO’s Revolving Fund for Access to Vaccines, which has operated for more than 40 years to distribute vaccines to places in need. PAHO’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Latin America will go to the areas and people at the greatest risk in order to adequately and equitably protect the people of these regions.

With more vaccines on the way and a heightened urgency to vaccinate due to spreading variants, more inhabitants of Latin America will hopefully see higher rates of vaccinations and an increase in safety from the virus in the near future.

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Vaccine Equity
Vaccine equity is important when it comes to distributing COVID-19 vaccines within different parts of the world. Some global initiatives plan on reaching out to many communities by spreading the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, other factors exist that one should consider when it comes to the importance of promoting vaccine equity.

COVAX Initiative

The purpose of the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, also known as COVAX, is to promote vaccine equity by increasing the availability of vaccines globally. COVAX’s main focus is on providing vaccines to citizens of many countries between now and the rest of 2021. This includes prioritizing countries that would benefit from receiving free vaccines. While working with organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, COVAX will receive enough support to ensure that more people will contribute to improving vaccine access.

Voices for Vaccines

The goal of one global challenge is to expand information regarding COVID-19 vaccines around the world. In collaboration with the Nursing Now Challenge Global Solutions Initiative, the Voices for Vaccines challenge encourages healthcare workers to spread awareness about COVID-19 vaccines and help improve vaccine equity. Anyone who applies will be able to share experiences they have had with other patients, along with sharing their personal knowledge. This challenge will also give workers the opportunity to have open discussions about the importance of promoting equal access to vaccines.

Intrepid Travel’s Vaccine Equity Campaign

One company recently came up with a plan to promote vaccine equity in different parts of the world. One of the things Intrepid Travel’s campaign focuses on is increasing the availability of COVID-19 vaccines. This will occur by informing people about COVID-19 vaccines and expanding access to improve access to vaccines. A donation from the Intrepid Foundation will also go towards supporting the cause. Some places such as Peru and Sri Lanka have provided transportation and hosted informational sessions to help increase people’s access to vaccines.

Other Ways to Increase Vaccine Equity

 One fact that one should consider when it comes to increasing vaccine equity is the creation process of COVID-19 vaccines. The process of tech transfer makes it more difficult for manufacturers to prepare vaccines due to supply, leading countries that need more vaccines to lose access to them. Some forms of technology can help increase the availability of needles and other important items. Companies choosing to work together will be helpful in promoting vaccine equity and saving lives.

The COVAX initiative plans to prioritize expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines and help improve access to vaccines. The Voices for Vaccines challenge is a way to encourage health care workers to emphasize the importance of receiving vaccinations. Intrepid Travel’s vaccine campaign focuses on eliminating barriers to vaccine access. Focusing on where vaccines go after manufacturers create them can have a positive impact on vaccine equity.

– Chloe Moody
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The covid-19 vaccination in HungaryThe coronavirus infection rate is dropping rapidly throughout Hungary thanks to a steadily increasing rate of COVID-19 vaccination. From a peak of around 10,000 daily new cases in March 2021, as of June Hungary sees fewer than 200 daily new cases.

In May, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas announced that Hungary will not join the new vaccination deal. As part of the deal, Pfizer and BioNTech will provide an additional 2.6 billion doses throughout the European Union (EU). Hungary is the only EU country that has opted out of the deal.

According to Gulyas, the Hungarian government is confident in its current supply. Gulyas stated that in the event a booster becomes necessary, “there are plenty of vaccines from Eastern and Western sources as well.”  Orban used his strong ties with Russia and China to purchase and deploy vaccines from those countries even before the EU approved them.

Vaccination Campaign Successes

Since January, almost half of Hungarians have received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As a result, infection rates have declined rapidly across the country. Compared to the rest of the EU, Hungary had a relatively low infection rate throughout the pandemic.  Hungary peaked at about 10,000 new cases per day. In the first week of July, there was an average of 41 new infections reported per day. That’s less than one percent of the daily average during the country’s peak on March 25. Furthermore, the country has seen fewer than one million COVID-19 cases overall.

Hungary has also expanded vaccine eligibility quickly. It is the first EU country to approve vaccination for citizens as young as 16, who are eligible to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech doses. Around 90,000 young people have already registered for the shot, accompanied by parental permission for those under 18. Euronews reported that “according to government plans, by mid-June, all Hungarians willing to get a Western-developed jab can be vaccinated.” Hungary is hoping to be able to vaccinate children as young as age six which would mean virtually all schoolchildren by early fall when school starts.

Low-Income Families and Vaccination

The percentage of Hungarians at risk of poverty has declined steadily in recent years, dropping around 3% from 2013 to 2020.  Hungary’s at-risk poverty rate was 12.3 % in 2020.  COVID-19 has been harsher on the at-risk population, especially the Roma population living in poor settlements.  The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), a human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) advocates for targeted measures to protect the Roma from COVID.  HCLU claims that the Hungarian government has overlooked the fact that the Roma have been more vulnerable to COVID’s economic consequences because they lack any financial reserves and rely on day-to-day odd jobs.

A Promising Start

With half of Hungarians vaccinated and many more eligible, working life is returning to normal, allowing the economy to thrive. As low-income citizens including the Roma get vaccinated, they will be able to return to work without fear of illness. Also, fewer people will lose their jobs due to business closures. This successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign is leading Hungary toward a safe return to life as it used to be. Furthermore, the government is confident that its current supply of vaccine doses can sustain the campaign’s success.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: Unsplash

Global hepatitis eliminationHepatitis-related illnesses kill someone every 30 seconds. While many strains have treatments, the disease is incredibly prevalent. About 354 million people have hepatitis B or C and around 80% are unable to receive the appropriate care. The illness appears all over the world, as 116 million have it in the Western Pacific Region, 81 million in Africa, 60 million in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 18 million in South-East Asia, 14 million in Europe and 5 million in the Americas. Global hepatitis elimination is possible with additional steps and education. However, as of right now, hepatitis is clearly very significant across the globe.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver often from infection or liver damage. While acute hepatitis often does not have symptoms, some symptoms can occur including:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • High temperature
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Pale, grey fecal matter
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice

Types of Hepatitis

There are five prominent types of hepatitis:

  1. Hepatitis A: Caused by the hepatitis A virus, people usually catch it when consuming food or drink contaminated with the fecal matter of an affected person. It is more common in places with poor sanitation and typically passes within a few months but could potentially be life-threatening. While there is no specific treatment, professionals recommend vaccination if a person is at “high risk of infection” or traveling to an area where it is more prevalent.
  2. Hepatitis B: Caused by the hepatitis B virus, hepatitis B spreads through “the blood of an infected person.” Hepatitis B is very common globally and typically spreads from an “infected pregnant woman to her babies or [through] child-to-child contact.” Sometimes it spreads through injecting drugs or unprotected sex but that is fairly rare. This strain is significant in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Most adults who get it recover in a couple of months, however, children often develop a long-term infection that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. A vaccine exists for hepatitis B.
  3. Hepatitis C: The hepatitis C virus causes this strain and is fairly common globally. Typically, the virus spreads through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person, so sharing needles is significant. Since many do not have symptoms, most people may not know they are sick without testing. One in four people is able to fight off the infection, however, it will stay in others for years. Chronic hepatitis C could cause cirrhosis and liver failure.
  4. Hepatitis D: Caused by the hepatitis D virus, this strain only affects those with hepatitis B. Spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact, it is prevalent in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
  5. Hepatitis E: Caused by the hepatitis E virus, people usually catch it by eating raw or undercooked pork, venison, shellfish or offal. Typically, it is a “mild and short-term infection that does not require any treatment,” but people with a weakened immune system may be more at risk.

Other forms include alcoholic hepatitis, which occurs when a person drinks large amounts of alcohol. There is also autoimmune hepatitis, which is rare and occurs when “the immune system attacks and damages the liver.” A medication to reduce inflammation is available. Global hepatitis elimination needs to focus on all strains but especially B and C.

Methods of Reduction

By 2030, diagnostic tests, awareness campaigns, testing and vaccines could prevent 4.5 million deaths in low and middle-income countries. Currently, only 42% of children receive the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine. Nevertheless, global hepatitis elimination is very possible. A daily medication taken for 8-12 weeks cures most with hepatitis C and medications for hepatitis B are available. Both hepatitis A and B are preventable with safe and effective vaccines. Vaccinating more children would significantly reduce cases and be a major step towards global hepatitis elimination.

Additionally, since hepatitis A and E both spread mostly in areas with poor sanitation, improvements in sanitation could drastically reduce infections. Testing is another important step as many do not know they have it. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) “estimated that only 10% of people with hepatitis B and 21% of people with hepatitis C worldwide knew they were infected. Of these, 22% and 62% had received treatment, respectively.”

Goals for 2030

The World Health Assembly called for the near or total elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030. This would entail:

  • A 90% reduction in new cases of hepatitis B and C
  • A 65% reduction in deaths
  • Treatment for 80% who have the illness

The Global Immunization Strategic Framework has laid out how to achieve global hepatitis elimination. Goals include strengthening vaccination services, helping improve access to testing and improving the response to outbreaks. Safe vaccines for hepatitis A and B already exist, so improving access to them is important. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that only 10% of people with hepatitis B and 21% with hepatitis C know they are sick. That means that improvements in both testing and education are vital first steps before improving vaccination rates. Therefore, global hepatitis elimination is possible with increased testing and vaccination rates.

– Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

Vaccinating refugeesVaccine rollout plans around the world often overlook the world’s 26 million refugees. A whole 126 countries have refugee populations of more than 500 people. As refugees make up a significant part of the population, during a global health pandemic, the world will not truly be safe until nations safeguard the health of refugees too. Although many countries are making efforts to protect refugees, barriers remain prevalent. Global inequalities continue to exacerbate the situation. Wealthy countries administered 85% of the world’s vaccines, however, 85% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries that struggle to access vaccines. Bangladesh is prioritizing vaccinating refugees and the rest of the world needs to follow suit by including the most vulnerable populations.

Bangladesh’s Vaccine Campaign for Rohingya Refugees in Cox’s Bazar

In August 2017, spikes of violence in Myanmar forced 745,000 Rohingya citizens to flee into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Cox’s Bazar is now the world’s largest refugee settlement with more than one million refugees living in the cramped camps.

At the end of July 2021, devastating monsoons in Cox’s Bazar killed about eight refugees and displaced 25,000 people, simultaneously destroying thousands of facilities, including health clinics and latrines. Damaged roads hinder humanitarian access, making Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh more vulnerable than ever.

In addition to the recent natural disasters, Bangladesh is experiencing an upward trend in positive COVID-19 cases. Bangladesh authorities recognize the extreme vulnerability of the refugee population. As such, on August 9, 2021, Bangladesh launched a vaccine drive in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. With the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other humanitarian organizations, Bangladesh plans to vaccinate all refugees in waves. The first cohort includes 65,000 refugees made up of community leaders, health volunteers and anyone older than the age of 55.

The Importance of Vaccinating Refugees

Although refugees seem to be the last group receiving vaccines, the WHO has placed refugees in the second priority group for vaccinations. Refugees fall into the same group as at-risk people and those suffering from serious health conditions because refugees tend to live in crowded communities that lack clean water and basic healthcare, making the spread of COVID-19 cases inevitable. No country can curb the spread of COVID-19 while the virus continues to ravage its way through refugee communities.

Barriers to Refugee Vaccination

Most countries understand how crucial vaccinating refugees is to ending the pandemic, however, these major barriers remain:

  • Language barriers lead to misinformation and vaccine distrust.
  • Online registrations exclude those who lack access to the internet.
  • Volunteers are registering refugees at camps, however, a portion of refugees do not live in camps, they live with relatives or family friends.
  • Many refugees fear arrest or deportation at vaccine sites.
  • Vaccine shortages as some countries like India paused vaccine exports due to rising cases in India.
  • The question of liability — who will take responsibility for refugees that suffer serious side effects from the vaccine?

The world not only needs to make vaccines accessible for refugees but must also make refugees feel safe enough to pursue vaccination. Refugees are among the most vulnerable people on the planet, therefore, it is imperative for the world to join Bangladesh in prioritizing the vaccination of refugees because no one is safe until everyone is safe.

– Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr

Vaccination Campaign in Kenya
Due to COVID-19, routine vaccination campaigns came to a halt in several developing countries. As a result, there were several outbreaks of other diseases, including rubella and measles. Measles is a highly contagious virus, and while it is preventable with a vaccine, it can lead to severe complications, and even death, if an individual goes unvaccinated. The pandemic offset vaccination campaigns in more than 40 countries in both 2020 and 2021, which “increases the risk of bigger outbreaks around the world.” One of the countries impacted by delayed immunizations is Kenya. However, the new measles and rubella vaccination campaign in Kenya that started in June 2021 may save the lives of millions of infants and young children.

Vaccination Campaign in Kenya

The measles and rubella vaccination campaign in Kenya, also known as the MR campaign, began on June 26, 2021, and ended on July 5, 2021. Several organizations, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, worked with the government of Kenya to deliver the vaccines. The initiative occurred in 22 Kenyan counties. Additionally, the organizations prioritized the counties with especially high numbers of measles cases and high counts of unvaccinated children. The campaign targeted children from 9 months old all the way up to children 5 years of age. Overall, the campaign targeted around four million children in Kenya.

The operation incorporated collaborative measures to allow the campaigns to run smoothly and quickly throughout the counties. This included hiring a high number of healthcare workers and setting up more than 5,000 vaccination sites. More than 16,000 healthcare workers participated in administering the vaccines. Along with the cost-free vaccines administered at health clinics and facilities, the operation included vaccination spots at “preschools, marketplaces, churches and other designated places on specific days” with the aim of vaccinating as many children as possible. Additionally, in order to raise awareness, a telecommunications company sent out mass text messages about the campaign.

Prioritizing Prevention

Since 2016, immunizations have been declining in Kenya, causing the number of outbreaks to rise, even though “the MR vaccine has been offered as part of the routine childhood immunization program” within the country.  The pandemic worsened those conditions, with 16.6 million African children missing “supplemental vaccination against measles between January 2020 and April 2021.” Moreover, measles surveillance declined in 2020.

In order for communities to avoid measles outbreaks, full vaccination rates need to be at least 95% for children. However, just 50% of children in Kenya received the full vaccine in 2020. Thankfully, with support from the Kenyan government and organizations such as UNICEF, health officials were able to provide MR vaccines to children across the country. This helped to manage measles outbreaks and safeguard the lives of many children this year. To continue more health initiatives after the MR vaccination campaign, Kenya is rolling out even more vaccination campaigns. This also includes a “multi-antigen catch-up campaign” to reduce the chances of further outbreaks and decrease the number of preventable deaths in Kenya.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Vaccinating Maré's favelasDespite Brazil’s largely successful vaccine program, it is only now that Maré, Rio de Janeiro’s largest complex of favelas, is experiencing mass vaccination against COVID-19. One thousand professionals vaccinated a significant portion of the population. In schools, “health centers” and other sites, these professionals look to vaccinate upwards of 30,000 people between 18 and 34 throughout the community. Organizer planned to give community members the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was produced by the Fiocruz institute.

Why the Vaccination Drive?

This effort is not permanent and cannot indefinitely supply vaccines. A primary goal of the effort is to conduct a study on the effects of mass vaccinations in such a large complex, which is home to widespread “poverty and violence” and often does not reap the same benefits as wealthier areas of Rio. In Maré, which contains 16 favelas, more than half of the inhabitants are under 30.

Maré has seen about 350 deaths since the pandemic began, but reporting difficulties in many other favelas often means that even official counts are artificially low. The study will utilize genomic sequencing to track variants and will seek to understand vaccine efficacy in the face of the virus evolving. Vaccinating Maré’s favelas stands as a novel move. The study’s uniqueness stems from its size, its target population and its location. Since rapid spreading can lead to a rise in variants, using a favela, rather than a hospital or health unit, is beneficial to research into variants.

Maré’s Social Mobilisation

Along with the program, Maré’s greatest strength in responding to the pandemic has been its social mobilization. Campaigns to reduce the number of deaths work through local media, social networks and word of mouth. The NGO Redes da Maré and the Mare Mobilization Front both work to inform and educate the public.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard recorded nearly 7,000 COVID-19-related deaths from nearly 100,000 cases. The dashboard focuses on the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. However, cases and deaths are both underreported, and the Unified Dashboard does not cover every favela, meaning that the actual death toll is doubtlessly much greater. For these reasons and more, vaccinating Maré’s favelas remains a key priority.

Understanding the Dashboard

The dashboard began in April 2020 “when grassroots organizations participating in projects organized by Catalytic Communities (CatComm) began to report cases and deaths in virtual meetings of the Sustainable Favela Network (SFN).” CatComm began a reporting initiative through newspapers and word of mouth from community groups themselves. Other methods included individual outreach for data collection, outreach to local health clinics or through WhatsApp, and analysis of available data when accessible.

The initiative gained traction because of a catalyzing unwillingness by the government to “survey favelas.” The dashboard was officially launched on July 7, 2020, according to its website, and has grown with each new press conference surrounding its progress. Campaigns like #VacinaPraFavelaJá have arisen to promote vaccination and have even enlisted figures like cartoonist Carlos Latuff.

Looking Forward

While the initiation of the vaccine process is a welcome one to many inhabitants of Maré, it has begun only after countless deaths and governmental neglect. The widespread nature and varied methods of the Unified Dashboard have meanwhile shown how collective action can keep communities afloat even in the absence of sufficient governmental intervention. Moreover, with strong community engagement and growing governmental support, vaccinating Maré’s favelas could lead to a more secure and safe future in due time.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Unsplash