Taliban members gather and give speeches outside Herat Governorate after the completion of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 31, 2021 in Herat, Afghanistan.
Mir Ahmad Firooz Mashoof | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
War-torn countries will miss the World Health Organization’s target of vaccinating 70% of their population against Covid-19 by the middle of next year, Harvard health leaders said at a university conference on Monday.
Health systems and public infrastructure were destroyed in the course of the pandemic in conflict countries, said Claude Bruderlein, a lecturer at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. According to the Red Cross, around 50 million people live among armed, non-governmental groups, and another 100 million in unstable areas.
“We are talking of 70% for mid-2022,” said Bruderlein about the WHO target. “There is simply no way the conflict countries can achieve any of these goals.”
Bruderlein urged the international medical community to reassess COVAX, a WHO initiative aimed at improving the production and distribution of Covid vaccines in developing countries. COVAX aims to provide Covid vaccinations to at least 20% of the countries’ population, but Bruderlein said the program is unsustainable due to the logistical difficulties of delivering multiple doses of vaccine in conflict areas and the lack of long-term outbreak protection of only 20%. Vaccination protection through.
Instead, Bruderlein urged health officials to assess those most vulnerable to developing Covid variants and invest in introducing vaccines in hopes of immunizing up to 60% of their population against the virus. COVAX is also running low on vaccines, further hampering the fight to control the virus in conflict areas, said visiting scholar Madeline Drexler of the Harvard School of Public Health.
“Really the biggest hurdle is this vaccine shortage,” said Drexler. “The COVAX facility that distributes vaccines to low-income countries around the world is short of doses. So there really is a global justice problem.”
WHO officials have been calling on high-income countries for weeks to move their excess Covid vaccines to poorer countries to ease the burden of global immunization disparities. The organization set a goal of vaccinating 40% of the population of each country by the end of the year and 10% of the population by the end of September, but 56 nations missed the September target.
Misinformation, political lies and the global spread of the anti-vaccine movement have made vaccine administration difficult in conflict areas, Drexler said. And the destruction of the war makes fighting the pandemic even more difficult, said Esperanza Martinez, head of the Covid-19 crisis team at the Red Cross.
“The duration of conflict generally weakens health systems, and important parts of the health system that are needed for vaccination become dysfunctional,” Martinez said.
“Additional elements of the health system – such as infrastructure, roads, bridges, water and electricity for the cold chain – are often not present,” she added.