Senior Health Reporter
With the vaccine supply chain now assured with the arrival yesterday of more than a million doses of Sinovac vaccine, the bulk of Zimbabwe’s first commercial order, the Ministry of Health and Child Care is accelerating the national vaccination programme with satellite vaccination points in rural centres and mobile teams becoming active.
Yesterday’s arrival completed the delivery of the 1,2 million dose commercial order, Zimbabwe’s first, with the initial 144 000 doses arriving last week and the other 1,056 million yesterday. Besides this commercial order there are already in Zimbabwe two Chinese gifts totalling 400 000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine and the first batch of 35 000 doses of an Indian gift of Covaxin vaccine.
With 1,635 million doses having now arrived, and the Government ready to place more orders, the Health Ministry says its major job is now making sure the programme is speeded up.
Speaking at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport as the consignment was being unloaded, Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro said: “This is a sign that we are moving forward and we are now going to up the speed of giving out the vaccine. This consignment will be followed by many other vaccines until we get to herd immunity. We know very well that the Ministry of Finance is ready to purchase more of these vaccines to make sure that all Zimbabweans are prevented and safe from this coronavirus,” he said.
Government is targeting to vaccinate 60 percent of the population to tame the infection rate among citizens.
As of Monday, 69 751 people had been inoculated, which is a 60 percent jump from 43 295 people who had received the vaccine on Monday last week as the first steps to accelerate vaccinations took effect.
Asked how the vaccine sent to each vaccination point would be selected, Dr Mangwiro said the process would be basically random. While both doses given to each person need to be the same, people have to go back to the centre where they received the first jab, so this is easy to organise.
The three vaccines already in Zimbabwe are very similar and are inactivated vaccines that work by using dead viral particles to expose the body’s immune system to the virus without risking infection.
This prepares the body to produce antibodies that fight the live virus once it attacks.
Since no living matter is injected, the vaccines are very safe and all follow the traditional route that tamed many other diseases.
Since they are so similar, Dr Mangwiro said there was no need for anyone to prefer one over the other but said that people could get a choice, basically by selecting the vaccination centre. But he recommended going to the nearest.
The Health Ministry already has a logistics system and infrastructure for vaccination of most childhood illnesses and will now be using more of this to distribute the Covid-19 vaccines and ensure they are readily available.
In rural areas they are already in the clinics but the programme will now be including business centres and other points, said Dr Mangwiro, as has been done in other vaccination programmes.
“These vaccination programmes are not new to us, we have been vaccinating children in all corners of the country and we have the infrastructure there. What we are doing is taking these vaccines to the same points because the storage and infrastructure that we have been using to vaccinate our children are the same infrastructure that we will use for the Covid-19 vaccinations,” he said.
There was no discrimination in the availability of the vaccine in urban and rural areas and having the satellite points would help to achieve the targeted vaccinations in a shorter timeframe.
The national vaccination programme last week entered into the second stage where teachers, those in the security service, hospitality industry, the clergy and others joined the frontline workers to receive their jabs.
Dr Mangwiro said the vaccines were already available at all clinics in the rural areas.
“What we will do further is to increase the number of outlets so that we reach our (target) figures quickly. We will have fixed outlets so if there is a clinic, we might have another outlet at shopping centres to make sure that the people get their vaccines and we avoid long queues,” he said.
He said most rural clinics have refrigeration systems that can be used to store the Covid 19 vaccines.
“This is why we chose these vaccines because they use the same cold chain storage facility like the one we have with our other vaccines. From here, the vaccines will be taken to central stores where they will be kept until they are ready to be dispatched. We will distribute it under a cold chain so the temperatures must be maintained until the patient gets the shot,” said Dr Mangwiro.
The three inactive vaccines chosen all need to be kept refrigerated but not frozen, about the temperature of a cold drink.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade David Musabayana said at the airport that increasing the number of people receiving the vaccination would help boost the county’s tourism and trade.