Covid in Senegal: Vaccine Demand Grows but Supply Is Short
As rumors and misinformation about coronavirus vaccines gradually subside and the West African country emerges from a third wave, Senegalese are less reluctant to take a shot.,
DAKAR, Senegal — When Mbaye Ndiaye, a science teacher in Senegal, arrived in his classroom after getting his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in April, his pupils burst into a round of applause. Surprised, he asked them what they were congratulating him for.
“We appreciate your courage, sir,” he recalls one of the students explaining.
Rumors and misinformation have accompanied the coronavirus pandemic and the vaccination campaigns in every country, and Senegal is no exception. Some Senegalese, worried about the safety of the shots, were reluctant to get one. Others wondered if there was even a need.
But something has changed in Senegal after the pandemic’s third wave there. More people want to get a vaccine shot.
If only they could find one.
“No first dose of any of the vaccines,” said Rama Sy, a nurse in charge of administering the shots at one hospital. “We have no idea when new doses will be available.”
In July, the third wave hit Senegal harder than previous ones.
Hospitals filled up, and there were reports that the number of burials at Dakar’s main cemetery had increased sharply. Testing rates are low, but for a few weeks, around a quarter of tests were coming back positive. One day in July, 38 percent of them did.
One recent day in the middle of Ngor, a fishing village turned suburb in Dakar where children carry fish by their tails through winding streets and young people in skinny jeans hunch over their cellphones, Ms. Sy was at work when a man she recognized entered the hospital.
Earlier in the pandemic, she had tried to persuade him to get vaccinated, but he had refused. Now here he was, sitting in her chair, proffering his arm, waiting for the needle’s prick.
“Why have you changed your mind?” she recalled asking him.
“Damako guiss,” he replied. “I have seen it.”
The young man was among the lucky ones. He joined the 7 percent of Senegalese who have had a shot.
But nurses like Ms. Sy have had to turn many others away.
When Covid vaccines were first available, she said, many older people had shown up, but young people had been more hesitant, both to get vaccinated or, if they were sick, to get tested.
“For some people, until they experience it, or witness it, they will not trust that the disease exists,” said Ms. Sy, who is 60. “They do not want to know if they have Covid-19 or not.”
Even Mr. Ndiaye, the science teacher, had his doubts at first.
Like his colleagues at Abass Sall secondary school in Liberte VI, a Dakar neighborhood, Mr. Ndiaye, 67, had not really wanted to get inoculated. He had heard wild rumors and conspiracy theories, and he was not sure what to believe.
But on that April morning, when a vaccination team came to his school, the director gathered the teachers together and asked for volunteers, to set an example. Mr. Ndiaye said he was the first to put up his hand.
Now, having seen for himself that the rumors were nothing more than that, rumors, he is something of a vaccine evangelist, encouraging his fellow teachers, students and neighbors to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families.
“I personally never met someone who got Covid-19, but I know it exists and it is a deadly disease,” he said. “I tell people that all vaccines have side effects, and none of them are 100 percent perfect.”
The third wave in Senegal came with a complication: It coincided with the beginning of what everybody calls “l’hivernage” — the rainy, hot season — a time when, even in pandemic-free years, people tend to get sick with malaria, flu or stomach bugs. The symptoms overlap somewhat with those of Covid and sometimes doctors do not recommend coronavirus tests, so sick people are often not sure what they have.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
This has inspired more Senegalese to seek out vaccines, if they could find them.
In late August, like many health facilities in Senegal, Ngor hospital was completely out of both Sinopharm and Johnson & Johnson shots, and could give only second doses of AstraZeneca.
Senegal is hardly the only African nation to go wanting when it comes to vaccines. Only 3.7 percent of people in Africa have been fully vaccinated, compared with 54 percent of the American population and 60 percent of the European Union’s.
Richer countries have bought up doses well into the future, and many African countries could not compete. For a time, they relied on Covax, a global vaccine-sharing partnership, to provide them, but Covax vaccines stopped coming when India imposed restrictions on AstraZeneca exports earlier this year.
That has left Senegalese like Mr. Ndiaye scrambling.
The health workers who came to his school told him to get his second dose at Mamadou Diop health center in Liberte VI, a neighborhood in Dakar. But for six weeks, there were no AstraZeneca shots available.
He kept phoning the health center to check. He even tried to get a different kind of vaccine for his second dose, but the health center staff told him that was not possible.
Finally, last week, AstraZeneca was back in stock.
Clutching his little green vaccination card in hands folded behind his back, Mr. Ndiaye made his way down the health center’s gray and white corridors and to the glass-doored room where nurses were administering vaccines.
He emerged from behind the glass a few minutes later. You could tell he was smiling, even through the mask. He had finally received his second dose.