How the Earthquake in Haiti Affected Access to COVID-19 Vaccine

How the Earthquake in Haiti Affected Access to COVID-19 Vaccine

CARE staff conduct Rapid Gender Analysis in the town of Corail in the Grand'Anse reg

Photo: Andre Marc Sary/CARE

Photo: Andre Marc Sary/CARE

In addition to preventing the spread COVID-19, Haiti faced another hardship after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked parts of the nation. The tragedy halted vaccination efforts and redirected medical supplies to the emergency response. Meanwhile, healthcare workers in Jérémie are short staffed and continue to treat more and more patients in an already strained healthcare system.

When a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti in August 2021, the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts were put on hold, while medical personnel, equipment, and logistical support were redirected toward disaster response. The earthquake caused over 2,200 deaths and left nearly 650,000 Haitians in need of urgent humanitarian aid. It damaged or destroyed health facilities, making it even more difficult for Haiti’s under-resourced health system to keep pace with the country’s needs. A CARE Rapid Gender Analysis conducted in September showed that 34% of people in earthquake-affected areas lacked access to basic services due to the pandemic’s strain on the healthcare system.

 

People on and near the destroyed Dumarsais Estie bridge
People photographed on and near the Dumarsais Estime bridge, where pedestrians and some smaller vehicles can pass, but not truck, in late August, 2021, after a 7.2 earthquake wrecked havoc in Haiti. The bridge connects the town of Jèrèmie to the rest of the country's highways.

In Jérémie, one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake, the hospital survived. Its COVID-19 testing center is a single room with plywood walls and a tin roof. Inside is Lois*, a medical practitioner sweltering in a plastic full body suit, including a hood, goggles, and two layers of gloves. He keeps the COVID-19 test samples in a tiny cooler and COVID-19 testing kits in a cardboard box that once held granola bars. A separate COVID ward—mercifully empty at the moment—has a few iron bed frames, a few oxygen tanks, and two outdoor latrines. Lois is the only person with a laptop on their staff, so he does all the data entry for test results. That’s not a lot of resources to address a deadly pandemic in a community with a population of 97,503 residents.

The earthquake pushed thousands of people out of their homes and into temporary shelters where social distancing is difficult to maintain. Because so many homes were damaged and aftershocks made buildings unstable, many people had to sleep in open markets or on the street — often banding together in groups for safety. The earthquake also disrupted hundreds of water supplies, making it nearly impossible for hundreds of thousands of people to access drinking water or wash their hands as often as they need to.

Sheila Armand CARE Haiti Nutrition and Community Health Specialist
Magalie with Sheila CARE Haiti Nutrition and Community Health Specialist

of the country received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this summer.

Haiti was the last country in the Americas to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines when 500,000 U.S. government-donated doses delivered through COVAX, the coordinated global effort to distribute COVID vaccines, arrived in Port-au-Prince in July. Only 120,000 people, less than 1% of the country’s 11.5 million residents, received at least one dose this summer. 

“In order to overcome the remoteness of COVID-19 vaccine administration sites, Haiti’s Ministry of Health set up a new vaccination site at St. Antoine Hospital in Jérémie,” says Sheila Armand, CARE Haiti’s Nutrition and Community Health Specialist. CARE facilitated the transportation of vaccine distribution teams in the hard-to-reach municipalities Beaumont, Roseaux, and Corail in order to vaccinate people who cannot travel to the sites due to the lack of economic means to pay for transportation.  

Destroyed homes and businesses in Chardonnette, Beaumont, Haiti, photographed on August 16, 2021. Photo by Marc Sary AndreCARE
Destroyed homes and businesses in Chardonnette, Beaumont, Haiti, photographed on August 16, 2021. Photo by Marc Sary AndreCARE

While deliveries to Jérémie have temporarily stalled due to the blockades by powerful gangs, CARE is helping figure out how to get water to communities at high risk — including to the local prison — so they can take precautions against the disease. Shelia and her team are making sure CARE staff are washing hands, wearing masks, and staying vigilant. And CARE is working on strategies to help people stay safe and get the support they need, including if their homes are damaged or destroyed.  

“CARE facilitated the transportation of vaccine distribution teams in the hard-to-reach municipalities Beaumont, Roseaux, and Corail in order to vaccinate people who cannot travel to the sites due to the lack of economic means to pay for transportation.”Sheila Armand, CARE Haiti Nutrition and Community Health Specialist.

Meanwhile, health workers like Lois continue to show up, even amid fuel shortages, rampant misinformation, and threats of violence. Because until the vaccination rates go up — something CARE has been working hard to make possible — frontline staff like Lois and the COVID centers where they work are the key to avoiding a massive COVID outbreak. 

 

* Name changed to protect identity 

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