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War, doubts slow COVID vaccination in disputed city in Yemen

Many Yemenis seem reluctant to get the vaccine either for religious reasons, or out of mistrust of the vaccine, or because of the dangers of war.

At al-Thawra hospital in the disputed Yemeni city of Taiz, a nurse without a face mask or protective gear inoculates the few people who have shown interest in the COVID-19 vaccine.

She takes a vial of AstraZeneca from a cooler, warms it with her hands, and invokes the name of God before injecting the shot into a man’s left arm.

Yemen has received 360,000 doses of the COVAX global vaccine exchange program, but many Yemenis appear reluctant to be vaccinated for religious reasons, due to mistrust of the vaccine or the dangers of war.

“We received 70,000 doses in Ta’izz and we started the vaccination campaign on April 21,” said Rajeh al-Maliki, head of Yemen’s health ministry in Ta’izz.

“We can say that there is very little interest … we have dealt around 500 shots since we started, which is less than we expected,” said Maliki.

There has been a dramatic surge in infections in Yemen this year, straining a health system already ravaged by war, economic collapse and a lack of aid funding.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which controls most of northern Yemen and parts of Taiz, has been fighting the Saudi-backed government since 2014. Tens of thousands have been killed and millions depend on aid to survive.

Man receives AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Taiz medical center [File: Anees Mahyoub/Reuters]

Al-Maliki and other doctors said many Yemenis, including medical staff, believed the vaccine would break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

Checkpoints and snipers in the heavily militarized city are preventing many residents from reaching hospitals, they said.

People living in Houthi-controlled neighborhoods must travel approximately 50 km to avoid the front lines and reach the main government-controlled hospital.

“I was infected with the coronavirus, I took natural herbs and spices that our ancestors used. I was healed again, ”said Ali Abdou, a 55-year-old resident of Taiz.

“We work very hard with our bodies and that gives us strong immunity, one of us does not die until his time is right. These rare diseases only affect the rich and we are not among them, ”said Abdou.

Mohammed Muthana, another resident, said he would wait for authorities and doctors to take the vaccine before he could be trusted.

At al-Thawra hospital, Dr Sarah Damaj tried to convince Yemenis that the vaccine is safe and does not break the fast.

“People are scared because there is a lot of misinformation out there, especially on social media,” she said.




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