The place a Vaccination Marketing campaign Faces Skepticism, Struggle and Corruption

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan, whose residents have largely brushed apart the coronavirus pandemic as exaggerated or an outright hoax, is now making ready to distribute its first batch of vaccines.

A half-million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, produced by an Indian producer, have been delivered to the capital, Kabul, by India on Feb. 7. However the arrival was greeted with indifference by many Afghans, who’ve rebuffed authorities warnings that the virus is a lethal public well being risk.

A budget and easy-to-store AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is being delivered as a part of the Covax program, a worldwide initiative to purchase and distribute vaccines to poor nations without cost or at a diminished value. On Feb. 15, the World Well being Group approved use of the vaccine, which requires two doses per individual, clearing the trail for Afghanistan to start its inoculation marketing campaign.

International trials have discovered that the vaccine supplied full safety towards extreme illness and demise. However its efficacy towards the virus variant first seen in South Africa is in query, after the vaccine failed in a small trial to stop research members from getting gentle or average Covid circumstances.

And even among Afghans who believe the virus is real and want to be inoculated, there is little faith that the government, mired in pervasive corruption, will equitably distribute limited vaccine supplies.

As the vaccination program got underway Tuesday, the first dose was administered at the presidential palace in Kabul to Anisa Shaheed, a television reporter who has covered the pandemic.

But Dr. Tahiri conceded that vaccination teams will not be able to reach broad swaths of the country where fighting is heaviest between the Taliban and government forces.

A thousand vaccination teams were trained last week, Dr. Tahiri said. The ministry hopes to receive more donated vaccines; Afghanistan, he said, has a capacity to store 20 million doses.

The first doses will go to health workers and security officials “who are at risk and working in crowded places,” Dr. Tahiri said, though there is not yet enough vaccine for everyone in this category. Journalists would also be eligible to apply to receive the vaccine, he added.

Afghanistan has recorded more than 55,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 2,500 Covid-related deaths, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

But because of limited testing and an inadequate public health system, experts say the actual number of cases and deaths is exponentially higher. A W.H.O. model estimated in May that more than half of Afghanistan’s estimated 34 million people could become infected. The Ministry of Public Health estimated last fall that more than 10 million Afghans may have contracted the virus.

Regardless of whether Afghans believe the virus is real, there is an abiding faith that Allah determines a believer’s fate.

Ahmad Shah Ahmadi, a resident of Khost Province, said there is no need to take the vaccine. “Infidels don’t believe in God, and that’s why they fear the coronavirus. For Muslims, there is little danger,” he said.

But Imam Nazar, 46, a farmer in Kunduz Province, said most residents of his village believe the virus is real because several villagers have died of Covid-19. He said he and other villagers were eager to get the vaccine but doubted that it would reach their remote town.

“This government doesn’t keep its promises,” Mr. Nazar said.

Fatima Faizi and Fahim Abed contributed reporting from Kabul; Farooq Jan Mangal from Khost Province; and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar Province.

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