BAGHDAD — In a country where most people believe that God will protect them but their government won’t, it has taken a popular Shiite cleric to give Iraq’s stumbling vaccination program a boost.
Iraq has been bracing for a dangerous summer, with widespread skepticism over coronavirus precautions, a limited vaccine supply and a troubled health care system.
But last week, Moktada al-Sadr, whose lineage from a revered Shiite family commands respect among millions of Iraqis, was shown on video rolling down his robe and baring his arm for a Chinese Sinopharm vaccine in the holy city of Najaf.
Vaccination clinics throughout Najaf Province had until then recorded only around 300 vaccinations a day. Two days after the video was released, that number climbed to almost 2,000 a day until clinics ran out of vaccines on Wednesday. They expect to receive more in two weeks.
Covax, the global vaccine-sharing partnership, has allocated 1.7 million doses for the country of 40 million people.
Covax, Chinese donations of Sinopharm, and purchases of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine funded through a $100 million World Bank loan.
The vaccination program was meant to start with the elderly, health care workers, those with chronic conditions and security forces. Yet a significant number of Iraq’s roughly 200,000 health care workers are refusing vaccines, according to officials.