CNN, CDC, NIAID, POOL
By Christina Zdanowicz, CNN
A missionary held back tears after she received her Covid vaccine in late October. She had traveled about 7,500 miles to get to this fateful moment.
Lorraine Charinda got her first shot of the vaccine on October 23 and her second on Wednesday. It was all thanks to a US church that raised money to get her from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Columbus, Ohio, the church said.
“Everyone else, we are still waiting,” Charinda told CNN, referring to the millions of people around the world who haven’t been offered the chance to get vaccinated. “So it’s shocking to hear that vaccines can even expire and be thrown (away) just because people don’t want to be vaccinated. If we had that opportunity, really, it would help us a lot.”
Roughly 1 in 1,000 people in the DRC have received one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine with 4 in 10,000 people fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. The numbers are staggering, especially when compared to the more than 1 out of 2 people in the US who have been fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This vaccine disparity across the globe is apparent, especially in Africa. South America, North America, Europe, Asia, Oceania have all administered a single vaccine dose to more than 50% of their populations, while only 7% of the population of Africa has received a dose, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) said in October.
For Charinda, who works in a poor, rural area called Kamina, she said they could not find the vaccine anywhere in her province. She did not believe she was set to get the vaccine until she was at the airport.
“We’re trying always to look for the vaccine and we couldn’t find it,” the 32-year-old said. “And because there were no centers in the province, you had to go somewhere to continue to look for it.”
The experience of the pandemic is even more real to Charinda because she saw her mother fight Covid-19. She met her in Zambia when her mother became ill and she watched her struggle to breathe and battle a fever in June 2021.
“I really didn’t know how serious the pandemic was until I saw my mother lie next to me having those symptoms and difficulty breathing, coughing, fever,” she said. “It’s like it’s real when you’re looking at it — it’s like staring at you in the face.”
Her mother was sick for 7 to 10 days and sent Charinde back to the DRC so she would not get sick.
By some miracle, Charinda said, she did not get sick after meeting her mom.
“Every time I get a negative result I am like, is this real?” she said. “I’m just looking up to the heavens and asking God if this is real.”
Charinda’s vaccine moment came to fruition because of the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. The conference has had a relationship with the DRC since 2002 and Charinda started working there as a missionary through General Board of Global Ministries in 2018, a spokeswoman for the West Ohio Conference told CNN.
“She is a key leader and her work provides food and financial sustainability for communities across the DRC,” spokeswoman Kay Panovec wrote.
The organization raised $4,000 within 24 hours in order to bring Charinda to the US, she wrote. The money came from West Ohio congregations and individuals and OhioHealth administered her shots, she added.
Charinda, a native of Zimbabwe, works as an agricultural specialist at Kamisamba Farm. She passionately talked about the work she and others do to train residents on crop and animal production in one of the poorest provinces in the country.
In coming to the US, Charinda said the access Americans have to the vaccine is remarkable. She hopes that her story can help others, she said.
“I encourage people to take vaccines. It’s really not a joke and it’s not anything about politics or what, but it’s something real,” she said. “You will not realize it until your loved one gets sick, and the fear is that you have that you don’t know that person is going to live.”
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CNN’s Daniel Wolfe contributed to this report.