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People Around The World Are Taking Extreme Measures To Get A COVID Vaccine


Most Americans can get a COVID vaccine at their local pharmacy, but millions of people around the world cannot. There are just not enough vaccines. So some people are taking extreme measures. Here's Farah Yousry from FYI in Indianapolis.

FARAH YOUSRY, BYLINE: You may have heard of people crossing the southern border into the U.S. to get a COVID vaccine. But increasingly, some people who can afford it are crossing the world to do just that.

MERHAN OMRAN: So all in all, I think it's going to be around 25 or 26 hours, including her transits in two countries.

YOUSRY: That's Merhan Omran. She's Egyptian and lives in Sunbury, Ohio, but her family is back home in Egypt. She was anxious about her mom flying here all the way from Egypt. That's 11,000 miles of flying and nearly $1,000 in airfare. Her mom, Sara Ismail, arrived in Ohio on time, and she was on a mission.

OMRAN: Hi. Yes, we're checking in for the COVID vaccine.

YOUSRY: Ismail is jetlagged, but still shows up on time at the local CVS for her Pfizer vaccine shot, and Omran keeps her company.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Do you want your right or your left arm?

SARA ISMAIL: This one.

OMRAN: My mom is considered a senior. And with the underlying conditions, like, she deserves to be given priority. But in Egypt, this doesn't happen.

YOUSRY: And that's because the supply of COVID vaccines is very limited in countries like Egypt. In fact, less than 5% of residents there are fully vaccinated.

TOM FRIEDEN: This is really a symptom of a broken system.

YOUSRY: This is Dr. Tom Frieden. He heads the group Resolve To Save Lives and is a former director of the CDC.

FRIEDEN: Fundamentally, it's starvation in the midst of plenty. And that's not just ethically unacceptable. That's epidemiologically hazardous. Because the spread of COVID means increased risk of more dangerous variants.

YOUSRY: This global vaccine disparity is happening as demand in the U.S. dwindled over the summer and wasted doses piled up. Sage Khanna is an entrepreneur who lives in Indianapolis. His father lives in New Delhi and got COVID last year, spending three weeks in the hospital. So as soon as vaccines started rolling out in the U.S., he flew to Indianapolis to get his shot. Khanna's wife arranged one for her mother, who also lives in India.

SAGE KHANNA: Nobody asked, are you a citizen or not? They're just giving you the vaccine.

YOUSRY: And that's been encouraging many who have the means to travel to the U.S. for a shot. But most people just don't have this luxury.

MOHAMED HAJJIRI: For my family members, if we had the luxury of bringing them here to get the vaccine, then I absolutely would have done that.

YOUSRY: That's Dr. Mohamed Hajjiri, a cardiologist in Mansfield, Ohio. His family's in Jordan and Syria with no valid U.S. visa. Hajjiri says back home, people trust American science and medicine. But misinformation about vaccines in the U.S. can reverberate overseas. He cautions that U.S. officials must continue to combat such misinformation so that when more vaccines do make it to countries now lacking them, people there would roll up their sleeves for a shot.

For NPR News, I'm Farah Yousry.

(SOUNDBITE OF NORTHCAPE'S "INDIGO LINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Farah Yousry covers health equity for Side Effects Public Media, in partnership with the Indianapolis Recorder. She focuses on healthcare disparities in minority communities across the Midwest. Before moving to the U.S., she worked as a journalist for local news organizations in Egypt during the Arab Spring and the contentious political period following the Egyptian revolution. She has worked with the BBC World Service for over five years, producing radio, television and digital features for an audience in the tens of millions across Europe and the Middle East. Farah speaks Arabic, English and Mandarin Chinese.