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At the market in Dar es Salaam. Photo: Ericky Boniphace/AFP via Getty

A number of countries around the world have fudged official coronavirus statistics, shared artificially sunny outlooks about the pandemic, or cracked down on reports that counter the official narrative.

Zoom in: But no country has taken coronavirus denial to the extent of Tanzania — which is not only denying that it has a single case, but it's also rejecting vaccines.

  • Even North Korea, which has reported zero cases, is set to receive vaccines from the COVAX initiative. So too Turkmenistan, which is officially COVID-free but will soon launch its vaccination campaign with Russia's Sputnik V.
  • President John Magufuli says Tanzania doesn't need vaccines, and that they don't work anyway: "If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, he should have found a vaccination for AIDS, cancer and TB by now."
  • His government has instead recommended herbal remedies, steam treatments, and a ginger and onion smoothie to ward off infection.

Reality check: Magufuli's COVID populism is dangerous for multiple reasons.

  1. Tanzanians are dying. In crowded hospitals, patients on oxygen succumb to what will be officially recorded as “acute pneumonia," The Continent reports.
  2. The virus crosses borders. The government's decision to refuse vaccines and make any test and trace system all but impossible could be dangerous for Tanzania's neighbors, and potentially the world.

The other side: Doctors and journalists have tried to spread the word about the risks, mostly anonymously due to fear of retribution, and the Catholic church recently raised the alarm.

Go deeper

Feb 8, 2021 - Health

The coronavirus vaccines have shattered expectations

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

No matter how hard you squint, or what angle you look at it from, the coronavirus vaccines are a triumph. They are saving lives today; they will help end this pandemic eventually; and they will pay scientific dividends for generations.

The big picture: The pandemic isn’t over. There are still big threats ahead of us and big problems to solve. But for all the things that have gone wrong over the past year, the vaccines themselves have shattered even the most ambitious expectations.

Feb 8, 2021 - Health

South Africa vaccine pause shows how COVID variants could derail pandemic progress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Everything seems to be on the right track with the coronavirus in the U.S., finally. Vaccinations are going up and cases are going down. But variants could mess it all up.

Driving the news: South Africa hit the brakes yesterday on a planned rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after a clinical trial appeared to suggest that the shot didn't work against the South African variant — arguably the scariest of the variants.

Facebook says it will crack down on COVID vaccine misinformation

Photo illustration: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook says it will take tougher action during the pandemic against claims that vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccination, are not effective or safe.

Why it matters: It's a partial reversal from Facebook's previous position on vaccine misinformation. In September, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company wouldn't target anti-vaccination posts the same way it has aggressively cracked down on COVID misinformation.