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Opinion | In Africa, Dealing With Vaccine Challenges and the Omicron Variant

To the Editor:

Re “As Omicron Spreads, Vaccine Supply in Africa Is Better but Wariness Persists” (news article, Dec. 2):

I am a doctor in charge of a health center in a remote area of South Sudan. When Covid-19 vaccinations began this summer, people were inundated with misinformation. Some thought the shot would make them infertile or change their DNA.

Community mobilizers, religious leaders and village chiefs worked together to build trust and change minds, and it’s been shocking to see just how successful their efforts have been.

When our clinics opened in October, people arrived by the hundreds, traveling miles by canoe through the worst floods in living memory. We expected to vaccinate 4,000 people, but we received just 545 doses. Sadly, we were forced to turn people away. Many sold their belongings to afford the trip and may not be able to return.

Overcoming vaccine skepticism in Africa is possible; I have seen it firsthand. Now, we must meet demand. We urge the world to donate more shots, and soon. As the spread of Omicron shows, no one will be safe from this virus until we all are safe.

Paulino Buda Geri
Paguir, South Sudan
The writer is a doctor with Action Against Hunger.

To the Editor:

The challenge of Covid-19 vaccination in Africa continues to be about access, and not skepticism. Well-designed surveys across the continent find stronger vaccine confidence in Africa than in the United States. The article cites a multicountry survey by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but fails to include its major finding that 79 percent of those surveyed will accept a Covid-19 vaccine if provided with one.

With visible legacies of colonialism, ongoing medical exploitation and broken promises from high-income countries, it is a wonder there is any trust left on the continent at all.

Like other lifesaving technologies, Covid-19 vaccines are distributed based on a market economy. More doses have been given as boosters in high-income countries than have been given in all of sub-Saharan Africa. These trends can be reversed if the United States and others donate stockpiled vaccines, transfer technology, expand manufacturing and strengthen health systems in Africa for Covid-19 prevention and response.

Amir M. Mohareb
Cambridge, Mass.
The writer is an infectious diseases physician and assistant director for vaccine equity at the Center for Global Health at Massachusetts General Hospital.

 Credit…The New York Times; Photographs by mikroman6, Burazin and Peter Dazeley via Getty Images

To the Editor:

Re “South Africa Deserves a Big, Fat Prize,” by Peter Coy (Opinion, Dec. 1):

Thank you, Mr. Coy. For those of us who have seen our country become almost totally isolated from the rest of the world, it is comforting to know that some serious thought is going into how to avoid such situations in the future.

Mr. Coy describes a system of possible financial awards to countries that discover variants, which is very encouraging, given the economic consequences of isolation. The Omicron variant appears to be highly transmissible, but the symptoms so far appear not to be severe.

But what if the variant turned out to be a monster, highly contagious and dangerous? Would the world then be justified in total isolation of the discovering country? And if so, how would the world compensate for the massive economic, not to mention psychological, damage such isolation would bring?

On the lighter side, we South Africans are quite resilient. Some of us humorously dubbed the new variant the “Omigod!” variant, in response to the world’s reaction to it.

Leon Joffe
Pretoria, South Africa

To the Editor:

Re “How Liberals Can Be Happier,” by Brad Wilcox, Hal Boyd and Wendy Wang (Opinion guest essay, Nov. 27):

The authors can selectively quote surveys showing that conservatives are happier than liberals, but I would prefer to look at real-world examples.

Do happy people form a mob to try to attack our Capitol while threatening to hang a vice president of their own party? Do happy people show up at school board and city council meetings threatening their elected representatives and other attendees with violence because they disagree over policy? And do happy people really demand that our public schools burn books that represent a different view of life?

This happy lifelong liberal doesn’t think so.

Richard Morgan
Austin, Texas

To the Editor:

This is the answer I give to anyone who asks about my well-being: Personally, my life is great, but I am terribly disturbed by the corruption, hate, racism and me-first-ism of the right wing in America. I find that the progressives and liberals in my area have come together effectively to protect our community from Covid; we strongly supported a town mask mandate and other safety measures.

Separating personal happiness and fulfillment from judgment about a time of increasing violence and threats from the far right is essential to sanity for some of us.

Nancy Braus
Putney, Vt.

To the Editor:

I get it. We need only to embrace the call to “to focus first on the welfare of others,” just as conservatives do.

I can hardly wait to separate refugee children from their parents and put them in cages, cut back on food stamps and public education, discourage vaccinations and masking, abolish women’s reproductive choice, privatize Social Security and all forms of health care, continue destroying the natural environment while concentrating pollution on the most socially and financially disadvantaged, invest in guns not people, oppose efforts to decrease the wealth gap and to remedy societywide racial, ethnic and gender discrimination, increase taxes on the poor while showering benefits on the rich, suppress the votes of minorities and the less affluent, refuse to mitigate (or even acknowledge) the ongoing climate change crisis, embrace individualism and the “free market” over social benefit. And this is just a short list.

I can feel myself getting happier just thinking about it!

David P. Barash
Redmond, Wash.

To the Editor:

Re “‘My Body, My Choice’ for the Right” (column, Nov. 30):

Michelle Goldberg notes that “feminists have always known that if men — or at any rate cis men — could get pregnant, abortion would be a nonissue.”

There is another way besides pregnancy to give men a big stake in keeping abortion legal: Pass laws that require that if a woman seeks an abortion but is denied one, the father must participate equally in supporting and parenting the unwanted child, or go to jail.

To the Editor:

Re “The Rise of Psychedelic Retreats” (Travel, nytimes.com, Nov. 25):

Several of my patients recently raised the possibility of trying psychedelic drugs. As most of these drugs are not approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, I cannot prescribe them. Further, as a licensed physician, if I were to prescribe unapproved, illegal drugs, I would undoubtedly risk losing my license to practice medicine.

Filling the prescribing gap created by government regulation of licensed health professionals are the providers of psychedelic drugs identified in your article. Their credentials include “shaman,” “entrepreneur,” “health care executive” and “raw foods chef.”

While I’d like to keep an open mind about the future use of psychedelics in treating depression and other mental disorders, their purveyors in today’s unregulated environment raise serious concerns regarding safety and accountability. Caveat emptor.

Jack Drescher
New York
The writer is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and a past president of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry.

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