EDITORIAL COMMENT: Lockdown extension, vaccination saving lives

Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT: Lockdown extension, vaccination saving lives | Herald (Opinion)

The extension of the level four lockdown and the continued bar on schools reopening could not have surprised anyone since although the lockdown is defeating the third wave we are still seeing daily new infections at around 25 times the rate we experienced between waves, although just over a third as bad as what we saw at the peak in the middle of last month.

So we all have to keep up the enhanced pressure to push back the infection rates, and we all have to accept that reopening schools right now is still too risky.

President Mnangagwa, when announcing the extension, also brought up the worrying fact that some of our neighbours sprung from the third wave into a fourth wave. Porous borders, coupled with too many Zimbabweans seeing lockdown rules as something to be circumvented rather than safety measures to be embraced, makes that danger very real.

The President, though, also outlined how we fight back. For a start we have to, as a nation with everyone involved, follow the medical advice on avoiding infection. This advice the Government has encapsulated into the lockdown rules and regulations. 

They are not a collection of measures designed to make life difficult, and to be circumvented as often as possible, but a fairly straightforward line of action to minimise the risk of becoming infected and if, by some misfortune we are infected, to avoid passing on the virus by infecting others.

We happen to know that the measures work since we are beating back the third wave quite effectively and thousands of lives, perhaps our own, perhaps those of our families, have been saved. Considering how easy it is to save lives, with moderate inconvenience, it remains astonishing that not everyone takes the steps. And the life we save could very well be our own.

The second way we can beat back the infection, permanently, is getting vaccinated. And the President was quite forceful in urging everyone yet to have their jabs to line up and get them. 

With almost 1,9 million having had their first jab by Monday it is obvious that sometime this week the 2 millionth Zimbabwean will have grabbed the opportunity; and now over 1,044 million of us have had their second jab, having had to wait the required period. 

The Government has been doing its job rather well. Supplies are now assured, not that simple in a world where demand outruns supply, and the vaccination teams have been strengthened and made more efficient. They have in fact coped with almost 100 000 people in one day. 

Some indication of the accelerated rate of vaccination comes from the facts that the third millionth dose will be given early this week, less than three weeks after the second millionth, and that the vaccination rate is accelerating. Last week the teams managed to give just over 455 000 jabs and already this week, despite the public holidays, we are moving faster.

The need for everyone to line up as soon as they can is not just the need to get to the stage where we can return to a life that can be regarded as “normal” but also to minimise the effects of the pandemic that we will have to live with for some months to come, especially as we have been moving faster in vaccinations than most of our neighbours.

There has been in some circles a lot of fruitless speculation of when the fourth wave will arrive. What is important is, as the President said, that this is a danger and we must be prepared. 

Statistically such a wave is likely at some unknown time, but the critical factor is to recognise that the severity of that wave will be affected by two factors: how many of us are vaccinated and how well we follow medical advice to minimise infection.

The more of us who are vaccinated, the less damage any future wave can cause. And if we combine vaccination with precautions then a future wave could well be just a small bump on the graph rather than some sort of tidal wave. 

The variation in daily vaccination jabs suggests that the teams can handle, at least on some days each week, more people. Some delay in getting their jab because they see the queues and decide to come back “tomorrow”. But taking a morning, or even a day, off work or business does not seem to be a major undertaking that has to be planned weeks in advance. 

Most employers are eager to see staff vaccinated and many even help with arrangements. Even when production requirements mean that staff have to go in batches, they organise that. Those who are self-employed, and the families of those in employment, can always organise the day they decide to go. The second jab is easier, in general, since the vaccination centre has already told you what day to turn up and is expecting you.

Considering the steps people used to take to queue for petrol, money from an ATM or a passport, it is difficult to understand the reluctance for the simpler process of going for a jab, which after all may well save your life.

Others are reluctant because of what a pastor has told them or what they read on social media. A lot of this anti-vaccination propaganda is generated by the peculiarities in American politics and a sort of macho attitude in that country derived from action heroes in Hollywood.

It seems unreasonable for a Zimbabwean to accept death because the previous American president did not win a second term or because they want to prove they are some sort of superhero able to fight off the infection unaided. The theology is often driven by those seeking excuses to avoid a needle and so press their personal political or “cowboy movie” agendas.

There are a fair number of people who find it exceptionally difficult to get to a vaccination centre. Old people in rural villages are one obvious example, but outreach teams are now moving into the villages and when queues form anywhere the elderly and those living with disabilities are usually brought to the front. 

Fairly soon small quantities of a single-shot vaccine procured under the African Union facility will be arriving, with the announced rate of distribution meaning that not even the most populous countries will be flooded this year. But one factor that could be considered in Zimbabwe when they arrive is to look at those who have to make such a monumental effort to get to a centre, that a one shot vaccine is a major benefit.

But the President’s advice is the correct advice: line up and get your jabs soon.