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 reach this fateful moment.
Lorraine Charinda received her first shot of the vaccine on October 23 and her second on Wednesday. It was all thanks to an American church raising money to get her from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Columbus, Ohio, the church said.
“Everyone, we’re still waiting,” Charinda told CNN, referring to the millions of people around the world who haven’t had the chance to get vaccinated. “So it’s shocking to hear that vaccines can even expire and be (thrown out) just because people don’t want to be vaccinated. If we had that chance, it would really help us a lot.”
About 1 in 1,000 people in the DRC have received one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and 4 in 10,000 people have been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. The numbers are staggering, especially when compared to the more than 1 in 2 people in the US who are fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This vaccine disparity around the world is evident, especially in Africa. South America, North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania have all delivered a single vaccine dose to more than 50% of their population, while only 7% of Africa’s population has received a dose, according to 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 couldn’t find the vaccine anywhere in her province. She didn’t believe she would get the vaccine until she got to the airport.
“We always try to look for the vaccine and we couldn’t find it,” said the 32-year-old. “And because there were no centers in the province, you had to go somewhere to keep looking for it.”
The experience of the pandemic is even more real for Charinda as she saw her mother battling Covid-19. She met her in Zambia when her mother fell ill and saw her breathing and fighting a fever in June 2021.
“I really didn’t know how serious the pandemic was until I saw my mother laying next to me with those symptoms and difficulty breathing, coughing and fever,” she said. “It’s like it’s real when you look at it — it’s like staring into your face.”
Her mother was ill for 7 to 10 days and sent Charinde back to the DRC so she wouldn’t get sick.
Miraculously, Charinda said, she didn’t get sick after meeting her mother.
“Every time I get a negative result, I think, is this real?” she said. “I just look up to the sky and ask God if this is real.”
Charinda’s vaccine moment came to fruition because of the United Methodist Church’s West Ohio Conference. The conference has had a relationship with the DRC since 2002, and Charinda began serving there as a missionary through the General Board of Global Ministries in 2018, a spokeswoman for the West Ohio Conference told CNN.
“She is an important leader and her work brings food and financial sustainability to communities in the DRC,” spokeswoman Kay Panovec wrote.
The organization raised $4,000 within 24 hours to bring Charinda to the US, she wrote. The money came from municipalities and individuals in western Ohio, and OhioHealth has administered her injections, she added.
Charinda, born in Zimbabwe, works as an agricultural specialist at Kamisamba Farm. She spoke passionately about the work she and others are doing to train residents in crop and animal production in one of the poorest provinces in the country.
When she came to the US, Charinda said the access Americans have to the vaccine is remarkable. She hopes her story can help others, she said.
“I encourage people to take vaccines. It’s really not a joke and it’s not about politics or anything, but it’s really something,” she said. “You won’t realize it until your loved one gets sick, and the fear is that you don’t know that person will live.”
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Daniel Wolfe of CNN contributed to this report.