COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Haiti
UNICEF supports vaccine rollout amidst a recent upsurge of COVID-19 cases, unreliable electricity, and increased urban violence threatening the well-being of children and families.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Rolling out a national COVID-19 vaccination campaign is a complex task to undertake in any part of the world. But in the current Haitian context -with ongoing unrest, unreliable electricity, and vaccine misinformation- UNICEF teams are working tirelessly to scale up transportation, increase mass communication and strengthen the cold chain across the country.
Less than two weeks ago, Haiti was the only country in the Americas without a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. With last week’s arrival of half a million vaccine doses donated by the U.S government through COVAX Facility, vaccinations quickly started in select hospital sites in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince.
Saint-Damien Hospital, also known as l’hôpital Petit-Frere et Sœurs, was one of the first to start vaccinations on Friday the 16th and is one of the three vaccination sites currently operating in the metropolitan area. In the coming days and weeks, it will gradually extend to other sites and departments across the country.
Next week, 22 new sites are expected to be fully functional, and there are a total of 483 vaccination sites identified to be set nationwide.
UNICEF is supporting the Government with the distribution, transportation, and storage of COVID-19 vaccines. To keep vaccines at the right temperature, UNICEF has installed over 920 solar-powered refrigerators in Haiti to reinforce the cold chain.
In total, UNICEF has equipped 96 per cent of all of Haiti’s health institutions with solar fridges.
“For safe storage, without reliable electricity, keeping large number of vaccine doses always cool can be challenging, especially in the most remote areas”, explains Karl Marx Dossou, cold chain logistics of UNICEF in Haiti.
Karl is one of the UNICEF staff supporting the Ministry of Health in charge of refilling with vaccines doses the solar-powered fridges installed in the hospitals.
Every day, nurses and health workers take COVID-19 vaccines in cold boxes to the vaccination point from the solar fridges installed in Saint-Damien Hospital.
Saint-Damien Hospital is vaccinating around 200 people daily.
The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths have nearly doubled in the country since the beginning of the year.
Frontline health workers, people aged over 50 and those with preexisting conditions are amongst the priority groups for the first phase of vaccinations.
“I am a neonatal nurse at the hospital. Now that I’ve been vaccinated, I feel much safer to do my job and to protect children and their parents from COVID-19 infection,” explains nurse Alabrie Marie Myriam.
Yet, making vaccines accessible on the ground is not enough. Convincing the public that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and free is essential to protecting those most at risk.
"As a doctor, I have to set an example for others," says Dr. Thanika Brun. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection and reducing the risk of people spreading the virus. But even once we are vaccinated, we need to continue protecting ourselves,” she explains.
Vaccine acceptance in Haiti is extremely low, fueled by rumors and misinformation. According to a UNICEF-supported perception study conducted by the University of Haiti last month, only 22 per cent of all Haitians would accept to be vaccinated.
UNICEF is supporting a communications campaign focused on advocacy through organized groups, such as religious associations, media, and community groups to overcome vaccine hesitancy and educate their communities about COVID-19 vaccines.
“I didn't want to take the vaccine because of all the negative things that are said on social media. But once they arrived in Haiti, and after getting more reliable information and talking to my wife, we learned that it is safe, it protects us and our loved ones from COVID-19,” admits Hervé Ternier, with her 19-month-old daughter Rosaika in his arms, after receiving the vaccine.
Urban violence among armed groups has escalated in several areas of the capital city. Over 15,000 women and children have now been forced to flee their homes. UNICEF is considering more sophisticated logistics and alternative routes to distribute and administer vaccines.
“There are some routes that are blocked by violence between gangs. The risk is very high because of the fragility of the vaccines, which need to be kept at the right temperature during the journey. That is why we will are also looking at transporting the COVID-19 vaccines by air to other departments,” explains Ernsly Jackson, Immunization Specialist for UNICEF in Haiti.
COVID-19 vaccines are being packed and transported to other departments of Haiti, so the vaccination campaign can start this week in different parts of the country.
This was the first donation of doses to Haiti, but it shouldn’t be the last one. UNICEF hopes this first donation of doses will be followed by donations from other well-supplied countries to reach those most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, helping to save Haitian lives and curbing the spread of the pandemic Latin America and the Caribbean.