Duke professor highlights importance of global vaccine equity as family is banned from U.S. visit

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- As the omicron coronavirus variant leads to travel restrictions, it's hitting one Triangle professor personally, banning her loved ones from South Africa from visiting for the holidays.

Dr. Lauren Franz, an assistant professor of psychiatry and global health with the Duke Global Health Institute is a dual citizen originally from South Africa. Franz hasn't seen her in-laws for two years due to the pandemic, so her two kids and family were very excited they were finally able to book a visit from South Africa to North Carolina for the holidays.

The travel ban led the family to cancel their plans as they were set to arrive two days after it went into effect. The United States has blocked entry for most visitors from eight southern African nations. President Joe Biden said the travel restrictions would give the U.S. time to get more people vaccinated.

While Franz is personally impacted, she points out travel bans also have societal impacts, especially on developing nations and highlights the importance of global vaccine equity.

"So few African countries actually have access to vaccines," Franz said. "And, what the emergence of this new variant does is it highlights that when we leave large parts of the world unprotected it sort of creates the conditions for the evolution of new variants, right. So, if we really want to get out of the situation, if we want to come together, if you know families with precious loved ones that live overseas, if we want to be joined together again, you know, we're really going to have to think more clearly about strategies to address vaccine equity."

As an assistant professor of psychiatry, Franz said she believes honesty is the best policy when explaining pandemic issues like the travel bans to young children, including her own.
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