BY RICHARD MUPONDE
GOVERNMENT is in the process of coming up with a national COVID-19 vaccination policy, amid calls by a top health expert that the country must also embrace COVID-19 vaccines that meet international standards and get approximately 10 million people vaccinated to curtail the escalating infections.
This was revealed by acting Information and Publicity minister Jenfan Muswere in a statement where he expressed concern that COVID-19 infections continued to soar, with the country recording 23 239 cumulative cases as at January 12, and 551 deaths.
The mass COVID-19 vaccinations have been viewed as the panacea to flatten the curve, which has seen cases continuing to spiral after a second deadly wave of the virus hit the country and many others across the world, resulting in an increased number of deaths.
“A draft COVID-19 vaccination framework and plan is being developed,” Muswere said.
“Harare and Bulawayo continue to lead in both the number of new infections as well as deaths, this however does not entail that the rest of the provinces are doing well as the whole of the country is encouraged to remain vigilant and guard against complacency,” he said.
His announcement that government would come up with a COVID-19 vaccination programme was reinforced by Bulawayo-based health expert, Solwayo Ngwenya, who is also Mpilo Hospital acting chief executive officer, who said people must not be scared of getting vaccinated.
Ngwenya’s assertions came soon after there was mass hysteria over COVID-19 vaccines, with a lot of myths being peddled on social media platforms to the effect that they had severe side effects.
This resulted in some citizens indicating that they would refuse to be vaccinated when the programme is rolled out in the country.
This also came at a time Britain offered to vaccinate 20% of Zimbabwe’s population against the COVID-19 pandemic, which will cover mostly the vulnerable population of about three million people in the country.
Ngwenya is one of the medical experts in the country who warned of a looming surge in COVID-19-related deaths, saying that the figures were likely to double as positive cases continued to rise against a drop in the recovery rates.
Yesterday, he told NewsDay that the COVID-19 vaccines would not be the first or last vaccines to be rolled out internationally and, therefore, should be accepted.
“If vaccines are rolled out, there’s a likelihood that they will flatten the curve together with the measures we are already taking, the lockdowns, social distancing, wearing of masks and so forth. Our only problem is that the virus may mutate and change and then vaccines may not be appropriate because the virus will outmanoeuvre them,” Ngwenya said.
He said in order to cow the virus, Zimbabwe must target to get about 10 million people jabbed to contain it.
“The best thing is to get 67%-70% of the population vaccinated. In Zimbabwean terms, it means about 10 million people out of the 15 million must be vaccinated. The vaccinated individuals act as a buffer against the unvaccinated people,” he said.
Ngwenya also dispelled rumours that the vaccines changed the genetic make-up of individuals once vaccinated.
“We are already being vaccinated from birth and we didn’t have any problems. We certainly had successes where vaccines have eliminated certain diseases on earth. I think it’s a myth that once you are vaccinated, it will change your genetic make-up.
“We should use properly approved vaccines that meet international standards. We are always immunising many children across the country with vaccines for other diseases and I don’t see what the fuss is all about,” he said.
This week, doctors in private practice said they were ready to support the government in its fight against COVID-19, but urged government to speed up the utilisation of all dormant council clinics in order to increase bedding facilities to deal with the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Muswere said some individuals in the country were wantonly disregarding lockdown regulations, thereby putting many lives at risk.
“As of January 6, 2021, a total of 309 061 arrests were made countrywide, for flouting lockdown regulations, indicating an increase of 16 286, from the 292 775 recorded in the last briefing. What’s worrying is that within a week, 9 993 people were arrested for not wearing masks and this points to negligence by some members of society who are not taking the virus seriously and this calls for behaviour change,” Muswere said, adding that while the virus might not kill the offenders, it had the potential to affect their family members.
Muswere also said government was engaging traditional, political, and religious leaders to ensure that they cascade COVID-19 messages to the grassroots.