NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Several hundred people line up each morning, starting before dawn, on a grassy area outside Nairobi’s largest hospital in hopes of being vaccinated against COVID- 19. Sometimes the queue goes smoothly, while on other days the staff tell them that there is nothing available and that they should come back tomorrow.
Halfway around the world, at an Atlanta church, two workers with multiple doses of vaccine waited hours on Wednesday for someone to show up, passing the time listening to music from a laptop . In a six hour period, only one person walked through the door.
The dramatic contrast highlights the great disparity across the world. In wealthier countries, people can often choose from several available vaccines, visit a site near their home, and get vaccinated within minutes. Pop-up clinics, like the one in Atlanta, bring vaccines to rural areas and urban neighborhoods, but it’s common for them to get very few takers.
In the developing world, supply is limited and uncertain. Just over 3% of people in Africa have been fully immunized, and health officials and citizens often have little idea of what will be available overnight. More vaccines have poured in in recent weeks, but the director of the World Health Organization in Africa said on Thursday the continent would receive 25% fewer doses than expected by the end of the year, in part to because of the deployment of recalls in wealthier countries such as the United States.
Bidian Okoth recalled spending more than three hours in a queue at a Nairobi hospital, only to be told to go home because there were not enough doses. But a friend who traveled to the United States got vaccinated almost immediately after arriving there with a vaccine of his choice, “like candy,” he said.
“We have a hard time knowing what time in the morning we have to wake up to get the first shot. Then you hear people choosing their vaccines. It’s great, super excessive, ”he said.
Okoth said his uncle died of COVID-19 in June and had twice given up on getting the shot due to long lines, even though he was eligible because of his age. Death prompted Okoth, a health advocate, to seek a dose for himself.
He stopped by a hospital on his way to work so many times that a doctor “got tired of seeing me” and told Okoth he would call him when the doses were available. At the end of last month, after another vaccine donation arrived from Britain, he got vaccinated.
The disparity comes as the United States moves closer to offering boosters to large segments of the population, even as it struggles to persuade Americans to get the vaccine in the first place. President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans, including private sector workers, as the country faces the soaring delta variant of COVID-19 .
About 53% of the U.S. population is vaccinated, and the country averages more than 150,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day, as well as 1,500 deaths. Africa has recorded more than 7.9 million confirmed cases, including more than 200,000 deaths, and the highly infectious delta variant has recently led to an increase in the number of new cases as well.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted on Wednesday that wealthy countries with large reserves of coronavirus vaccines should suspend the booster offer until the end of the year and put the doses available to the poorest countries.
John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Thursday that “we haven’t seen enough scientific data” to decide when to give booster shots.
“Without it, we are playing,” he said, and urged countries to send doses to countries facing “vaccine starvation”.
In the United States, vaccines are easy to find, but many people are reluctant to get them.
At the Northwest Atlanta Church, a nonprofit group offered the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines for free without an appointment from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. But site manager Riley Erickson spent much of the day waiting in an air-conditioned room. full of empty chairs, although the group contacted neighbors and the church announced the location to its large congregation.
Erickson, of the CORE disaster relief organization, said the vaccination rate in the region was low, so he was not surprised by the low turnout. The only person who showed up was a student.
“When you put in the effort to go into areas where there is less interest, that’s kind of the result,” he said. However, what he took away was that CORE needed to spend more time in the community.
A second vaccination site run by county officials – this one in downtown Atlanta – had a little more foot traffic at lunchtime, but not enough to cause any delay.
Margaret Herro, director of CORE in Georgia, said the group had seen an increase in vaccinations at its pop-up sites in recent weeks amid a wave of COVID-19 fueled by the delta variant and full approval by the FDA of the Pfizer vaccine. He administered more than 55,000 shots from late March to late August at hundreds of sites across the state, including schools and farmers’ markets. He’s also been to meat-packing plants and other workplaces, where participation is better, and he plans to focus more on those places, Herro said.
“We certainly don’t feel like there’s still time to give up,” she said.
In Nairobi, Okoth believes there should be a global commitment to equity in vaccine administration so that everyone has a baseline level of immunity as quickly as possible.
“If everyone gets at least one first injection, I think no one will care that the others even get six booster shots,” he said.
Thanawala reported from Atlanta.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a Founding Member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost
The Huffington Gt