KABUL—The Biden administration plans to deliver three million doses of the
coronavirus vaccine next week to Afghanistan, which is battling its deadliest wave of the pandemic amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
The White House is offering the single-dose vaccines ahead of President Biden’s Friday meeting with Afghan President
and Afghanistan’s chief peace negotiator,
They plan to discuss how Washington can continue supporting the embattled Afghan government, which lost large territories to the Taliban this month, once the U.S. military completes its withdrawal.
Mr. Biden aims to press Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah—who ran against the Afghan president in elections in 2014 and 2019—to align more closely and create a broader front against the Taliban, if Washington is to continue supporting Kabul, according to a senior administration official.
Covid-19 cases and deaths have surged in Afghanistan, a nation of 40 million people, since late May, largely because of the spread from India and Pakistan of the Delta variant, which is more infectious and more resistant to existing vaccines.
According to official statistics, which account for only a fraction of cases because the government doesn’t control much of the countryside and because many Afghans have no access to testing or healthcare, an average of 85 people died of Covid-19 every day in Afghanistan over the past week.
Less than 1% of Afghans have been fully vaccinated. Those few received the
vaccine imported from India or Chinese-made Sinopharm shots. Widespread skepticism about vaccines and low levels of education have made the vaccination campaign particularly challenging.
That is changing, with hundreds lining up every day to receive vaccines at Kabul’s Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital, up from as few as 10 people a day in May, said the facility’s medical director, Tariq Ahmad Akbari. “People are afraid now because of the severity, and of how fast it is spreading,” he said.
The J&J vaccines will be shipped to Afghanistan as early as next week, a senior U.S. administration official said. Washington is also providing oxygen and other supplies to Afghanistan as part of its package of pandemic relief, officials said.
The U.S. is eager to demonstrate its commitment to Afghanistan, even as it withdraws its remaining troops ahead of Mr. Biden’s September deadline. This month, Washington pledged $266 million in humanitarian assistance, and has requested in its fiscal 2022 budget $3.3 billion for Afghanistan’s army, air force, special forces and police, officials said.
The Taliban have rapidly advanced across Afghanistan in recent weeks, surrounding most northern cities. A new U.S. intelligence assessment has forecast that the Afghan government could fall as soon as six months after American forces depart.
The pandemic forced the American Embassy in Kabul into lockdown last week, leading to emergency evacuations and stretching medical facilities. Civilian hospitals in the capital are also running out of beds: The Afghan-Japan Hospital is treating Covid-19 patients in corridors because its 150 beds are full, Dr. Akbari said.
“This has been disastrous,” he said, noting that last week, 75 of the hospital’s patients died and only 35 recovered.
The wave of infections has led to the shortage of oxygen, with private companies charging as much as $500 per tank—equivalent to the country’s per capita annual gross domestic product.
Jan Mohammad Noori, who runs a Kabul nongovernment organization that supplies oxygen tanks free of charge, said he lost four relatives, the youngest of whom was just 30 years old, to Covid-19 last week.
“The fear is greater than during the first and second waves,” he said, “because, this time, more people are dying.”
—Ehsanullah Amiri contributed to this article.
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