BY VANESSA GONYE/PHYLLIS MBANJE
VICE-PRESIDENT and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga yesterday became the first Zimbabwean to be vaccinated against COVID-19, taking the jab in public in a move seen as a way of trying to convince a sceptical public that the Chinese inoculation is safe.
The country took delivery of 200 000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by the Asian country on Monday, but questions about the efficacy of the vaccine and side effects remain.
Many of the legislators expressed fear that Zimbabweans could be used as guinea pigs.
But Chiwenga, who spent the better part of 2019 in China receiving treatment for an unknown ailment, volunteered to be the first person to take the jab.
He was inoculated in public at Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital, marking the beginning of government’s rollout of the vaccination programme that will see health workers, designated as priority group, inoculated under the first phase that targets 100 000 people.
The former army general has expressed confidence with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is yet to be vaccinated, but yesterday took to Twitter to express confidence in the vaccine.
“Zimbabwe’s first COVID-19 vaccination flag of Zimbabwe, thank you to Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga for showing Zimbabwe that this vaccine is safe for all our people. This is a historic moment in our country’s fight against this virus,” he said.
Addressing a huge crowd gathered at Wilkins to witness his inoculation, Chiwenga said: “The government of Zimbabwe adopted the second line of defence to augment preventive measures to combat COVID-19.
“The second layer of defence is the procurement and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines which we have all witnessed here. Today marks the launch of the vaccination programme that is set to achieve the herd immunity of at least 10 million Zimbabweans,” he said.
In the midst of public mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, Chiwenga said the Health ministry had “conducted all scientific processes to ascertain the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine, which was confirmed to be 79%”.
“My presence here today with some Ministry of Health and Child Care officials, including my deputy (John Mangwiro), is to exhibit government’s confidence with the Sinopharm vaccine,” he said.
“I have received my COVID-19 vaccine jab together with my deputy minister and my staff. Therefore, I urge all Zimbabweans to be vaccinated at their nearest health centres.
“It is in the interest of all of us to be vaccinated so we don’t pass on the disease to the next person. More COVID-19 vaccines are expected in the country till the required quantities are achieved in the shortest possible time.”
Chief co-ordinator of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Agnes Mahomva, said government had taken due care for the vaccine to ascertain its ability to protect from the virus.
She said Chiwenga’s move to take the jab first was to give confidence and dispel the rumours and misconceptions being spread about the vaccine.
“It is very clear, it has gone through clinical trials, they are very clear, but with all vaccines, you make sure you gather your data as you begin to roll out to make sure if there is anything that has not been captured, you can capture it for our particular population, for example,” Mahomva said.
“That’s what we are doing and it also depends on how many accept the vaccine. It requires people to accept the vaccine first, then we will have the numbers to analyse.”
By yesterday morning, the country had recorded 35 423 COVID-19 positive cases, including 1 418 deaths.
Most African countries have started inoculating their citizens against the highly infectious respiratory disease.
South Africa also started vaccinations using the Johnson and Johnson vaccine on Wednesday.