Haiti, reeling from the assassination of its president and the coronavirus pandemic, has received its first half-million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund said Thursday.
UNICEF said in a statement the doses were donated by the U.S. and delivered Wednesday through COVAX, an initiative for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Until yesterday, Haiti was the only country in the Americas without a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine,” UNICEF said in a statement Thursday.
“Thanks to this donation, hundreds of thousands of Haitians will receive their shots against COVID-19,” UNICEF said. “Yet, despite the collective efforts to kickstart the vaccination campaign soon, most of the Haitian population is at risk of remaining unvaccinated due to the limited availability of doses currently in the country.”
In an exclusive interview with VOA, U.S. National Security Council member Juan Gonzalez said the decision to speed up vaccine delivery came after a U.S. delegation visited Port-au-Prince on Sunday.
“Wednesday, we provided as a result of the trip 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines. And the priority for those is to make sure we are vaccinating health care workers so that Haiti's hospitals and the institutions that are providing care and those that have been impacted by the pandemic — those health care workers — are vaccinated,” Gonzalez told VOA.
UNICEF said COVID-19 deaths and infections almost doubled in the first five months of this year in Haiti, one of only 10 countries that have not launched a vaccination campaign.
The initial batch of vaccines came after the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise by an armed hit-squad in his heavily guarded private home.
Moise’s death occurred amid a period of heightened political instability and gang violence in the country. His assassination has raised fears of another surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
U.S. President Joe Biden promised in June to deliver 80 million doses worldwide by the end of the month. His administration plans to donate an additional 500 million doses globally in the next year, and 200 million by the end of 2021.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
Margaret Besheer at the United Nations and VOA Spanish reporter Jorge Agobian contributed to this report. Some information also came from Agence France-Presse and The Associated Press.