Social Media Posts Mislead on COVID-19 Vaccines, Deaths in Afghanistan -
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Afghanistan has implemented a COVID-19 vaccination program and, although administration of vaccines has slowed due to internal armed conflicts, the program is still under way. But some prominent conservative purveyors of misinformation in the U.S. have made false claims about vaccination efforts and the impact of the pandemic in Afghanistan.
At the beginning of 2021, the Taliban gave its support to the COVID-19 vaccination drive backed by COVAX, and a Taliban spokesman told Reuters that the group would help "facilitate" the effort.

The Middle East Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., called the Taliban's attitude toward the COVID-19 vaccine "a departure from its usual position against immunization programs." It noted that the Taliban has rejected vaccination programs in the past, including an effort to eradicate polio. Afghanistan is one of only two countries where polio is endemic, according to UNICEF.

Although the Taliban has said that it supports the COVAX effort, it appears to have interfered in some instances. In March, the group seized a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines in the northern province of Faryab, according to the vaccine alliance Gavi, one of the COVAX partners. And in August, an Afghan news outlet reported that the Taliban had shut down a COVID-19 vaccine distribution ward in the eastern province of Paktia.

But health care workers and aid organizations appear to be operating under the assumption that COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be available.

Sabrina Sidhu, another UNICEF spokeswoman, told us by email, "The [government] Health Commission, earlier this week, asked all health facilities to open, and all doctors, nurses and health workers, including women, to come back to work." Also, a World Health Organization report issued on Sept. 2 said, "There is an urgent need to scale-up the COVID-19 response, especially vaccination."

So, the Taliban does have a history of eschewing vaccination and reportedly has interfered in some instances with the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. But we could find no evidence that the group has issued a ban at this point. Instead, we found that it has publicly stated support for the effort.

As for the…
Saranac Hale Spencer
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