Why did the employees of the US Embassy in Moscow ask to be inoculated with the Russian vaccine?
American diplomats working in countries with poor medical infrastructure and high rates of COVID-19 are expressing frustration over the way senior officials in Washington are distributing vaccines against the virus. Writes about it The Washington Post.
A limited supply of vaccines has forced State Department officials to make difficult and unenviable decisions. Addressing the deficit is one of the first tasks of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who has pledged to restore "morale and trust" in the department.
At least 13 foreign governments have offered to vaccinate US officials working overseas with their own US-made Moderna and Pfizer vaccine stocks - a gesture the State Department has already accepted, senior US officials said. The department is evaluating proposals from at least eight other countries that are willing to do the same.
In Russia, some State Department officials approached Moscow for doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington failed to promise a supply of US-made vaccine doses in the near future, officials said.
Sputnik V has not been approved by the World Health Organization or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Department of State discourages its employees from getting the vaccine, but allows them to make their own health decisions.
“It is embarrassing for the richest country in the world to demand charity from other countries when it comes to vaccines,” said one American diplomat on a mission to the Middle East. "Especially when you consider that the best vaccines were made in the United States."
This is not all
In China, some U.S. employees have complained that Chinese authorities gave them an anal swab for coronavirus, according to United States officials. Chinese doctors declared the invasive technique more effective than a nasal swab, despite the unpleasant nature of the procedure. In response to questions about the analysis of anal swabs from US officials, a State Department spokesman said the department is "evaluating all reasonable options" to address the issue in order to preserve the "dignity" of US officials "in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Human Rights."
The Department of State, like other US departments, depends on the amount of vaccine the Department of Health receives. The State Department requested 315 doses but received only 000% of them in three separate tranches, officials said, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The health and safety of our employees is a top priority for the department and we are committed to providing our employees with timely and accurate vaccine distribution information,” Perez said. "This is a very volatile situation and we understand that employees are hungry for information."
Carol Perez, the Acting Deputy Chief of State for Governance, explained that "there has been some confusion about the Department's distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine as we work to quickly provide vaccines to our employees."
Perez and other senior officials said they are working to address the concerns of diplomats on the ground about vaccines.
In his first address to staff in January, Blinken noted that the pandemic has claimed the lives of five U.S. State Department employees and 42 local employees around the world.
“A lot of people got sick,” he said. "The President is committed to helping us deal with this as quickly as possible."
Some diplomats have expressed sympathy for the State Department leadership during the unprecedented crisis.
“The Department has done a decent job of vaccinating in a very challenging environment,” said a spokesman for the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), a union representing American diplomats. "However, the department could do better with communication."
To address communication concerns, Perez and department chief physician Larry G. Paget hosted a conference call on February 2 that called 900 US officials around the world.
Some US diplomats are still unhappy that vaccine distribution is disproportionately beneficial to US personnel in Washington and New York at the expense of diplomats in Brazil, Oman, Russia, Bahrain and dozens of other at-risk countries. They argue that officials in the United States have been able to get the vaccine simply by walking into the office once a week, while diplomats abroad remain stranded with no guarantees about vaccinations in the near future.
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"Washington prioritizes domestic workers and has no real plan for the rest of us," said one senior US diplomat.
State Department officials say they have imposed stricter scrutiny of which U.S. employees receive vaccines in recent weeks and deny that they have given disproportionate priority to Washington.
The first tranche of doses received by the department in December was mainly sent to US officials on the East Coast, in particular to frontline medical personnel, XNUMX-hour surveillance centers, and personnel at the New York passport office.
The second part went to various employees of the regional passport offices in New Orleans, Portsmouth (New Hampshire) and Hot Springs (Arkansas), as well as employees working in West Africa, Mexico and Turkmenistan.
Most of the vaccines from the third shipment will be sent overseas, to east and south Africa, they said. They acknowledged that the plan does not take into account many of the countries where American personnel are located, but said they are trying their best in the face of limited supply.
American diplomats working overseas say the sense of loss of priority stems from a decree that Washington sent out to overseas locations, including those with travel restrictions. Also, the most senior medical staff was sent to Washington to help vaccinate employees.
“Health posts have expanded to support vaccinations in DC,” one diplomat said.
The spokesman for the State Department explained that the reason that the department "authorized the rotation of personnel" is to "learn at a very high and expert level to track contacts and lead patients."
The official assured that the department will have "enough staff to support all procedures abroad."
Diplomats noted that the administration of US President Joe Biden is more transparent about the distribution of vaccines than the administration of Donald Trump, but there is still room for improvement.
“The government needs to send out regular updates,” said an AFSA spokesman.
Some American diplomats look enviously at the way the US military distributes vaccines, although comparison is complicated by the Pentagon's large size and logistical problems with access to smaller and more disparate embassies and consulates around the world.
The State Department, which employs about 75 employees, received approximately 000 doses, but declined to say how many people were vaccinated.
The Pentagon delivered more than 800 first doses of the vaccine, of which 000 troops received a second dose, the department said last week. There are about 210 million military personnel on active service and about 000 million people work in the department.
Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, said vaccine supply problems and a lack of inventory information overshadowed the ability of health officials to predict the rate of mass vaccinations.
“Lack of data makes it difficult to roll out a vaccination campaign,” he explained. "Vaccines take a long time to make."
But this does not diminish the responsibility of the department to diplomats working abroad, the professor stressed.
“We ask them to go to dangerous places, so we have an ethical obligation to vaccinate our people abroad,” says Lawrence Gostin. "And it's hard not to be outraged by the idea that we are handing over the protection of our diplomatic corps to a foreign government."
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