AUTHORITIES have confirmed that the country will start vaccinating citizens against Covid-19 from next week — with healthcare workers receiving top priority in this inaugural phase.
Speaking during a Daily News webinar yesterday, Health and Child Care deputy minister John Mangwiro said the first batch of 200 000 vaccines donated by Chinese company SinoPharm will have arrived in the country by then.
This comes as Zimbabwe expects to provide vaccines to more than 10 million people in the coming weeks and months, as authorities fight to mitigate the local spread of the virulent respiratory disease.
It also comes as health experts have warned that millions of Zimbabweans could be at risk if authorities acquire coronavirus vaccines without establishing their efficacy against regional variants of the disease.
Mangwiro told the Daily News webinar that the government would utilise existing vaccination structures used by the Health and Child Care ministry for immunising children for the Covid-19 programme.
“The vaccine is coming next week and there will be a roll-out programme that will be well organised and co-ordinated.
“We have been vaccinating our children since time immemorial, and so we have vaccination centres countrywide. We have facilities to handle this. So, we are quite ready,” he said.
“The first to be vaccinated will be our frontline workers and this does not only mean government workers, because we have both public and private health delivery sectors.
“Even those in the private sector are frontline workers because they are part of the country’s health delivery system.
“Those with comorbidities (the simultaneous presence of two or more diseases in a patient) will be vaccinated soon after the frontline workers.
“The elderly are part of the people who will be vaccinated first because as people grow older, their immunity also weakens. So, we definitely need to protect them,” Mangwiro said further.
He urged people with underlying health problems — including hypertension, diabetes, cancer, asthma and those on chemotherapy and haemodialysis, as well as HIV/Aids patients — to continue with their medication during the vaccination period.
Mangwiro also warned anew that it was dangerous for the public to engage in untested home remedies to either prevent or deal with Covid-19.
“Most home remedies have not been scientifically proven to change the course of Covid-19. That is why people are desperate to get the vaccines as a sure way to say at least we can have protection against the virus.
“There are so many remedies the world over and we can see here in Zimbabwe that Zumbani has become a very popular plant … I am sure we need to have farms for it.
“I have seen people using dangerous remedies including steaming hot stones. There is a danger that the stone can break and blow off one’s face or someone could lose their life.
“We need to be careful with such remedies which are not scientifically proven because some lead to permanent kidney failure, while others cause permanent liver or lung damage, or brain damage.
“We need to believe in science teaching,” Mangwiro warned.
The SinoPharm vaccine was approved in China for general public use and is also being administered in a number of other countries.
Next week’s roll-out of vaccines locally comes as the country is expecting to receive more jabs for the rest of the targeted populations next month.
Speaking at Tuesday’s post-Cabinet meeting media briefing, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said more vaccines were expected in the country in March.
“Meanwhile, efforts to procure other Covid-19 vaccines such as the Sputnik V (Victory) from Russia, among others, are under way.
“India, like China, has also offered a donation and an option to purchase commercially and the modalities of this offer are still being worked out.
“Zimbabwe has also submitted its expression of interest to participate under the Africa Union Covid-19 vaccination programme.
“The private sector will also support the government through a formula that they keep 50 percent of what they procure for their employees,” Mutsvangwa said.
“In that regard, Cabinet endorsed … that Zimbabwe’s vaccination programme, in particular the choice of vaccines, needs to be science-based, with adequate research and findings guiding decision-making and the course of action,” Mutsvangwa added.
She also reiterated that the government had set aside US$100 million for the procurement of vaccines, adding that authorities were taking all necessary measures to ensure that the population was safe.
Earlier this week, health experts warned the government to be careful on the vaccines it intended to acquire, after neighbouring South Africa put on temporary hold the roll-out of AstraZeneca vaccines which were scheduled to be administered this month.
SA Health minister Zweli Mkhize said the planned roll-out would be held back until a committee of local scientists had decided the way forward — after data showed that the vaccines gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the country’s dominant coronavirus variant.
Pretoria had intended to roll out the AstraZeneca shots to healthcare workers later this month, after recently receiving one million doses that were produced by the Serum Institute of India.
Instead, South Africa will now offer vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson, as well as Pfizer in the coming weeks, while experts look further into the AstraZeneca jabs.
In the light of this, several medical experts told the Daily News this week that it would be risky to acquire vaccines without fully establishing the type of coronavirus variants that were prevalent in the country — to determine suitable jabs.
Zimbabwe has been battling to contain the second wave of the lethal virus which killed 600 people last month alone, among them ministers and business executives — amid growing concerns of a slip in discipline by citizens.
The country has entered the final week of its toughened Covid-19 national lockdown which includes a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
Authorities are expected to review the stay-at-home order this weekend.