BY MOSES MATENGA
FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube yesterday said COVID-19 vaccines would be given for free, climbing down from his earlier statement that private citizens would pay for the jab.
Ncube this week told State media that some Zimbabweans would be required to pay for COVID-19 vaccination, triggering an outcry from the population already burdened with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) screening costs for the virus.
He said there was nothing for free for Zimbabwe’s private citizens without being specific on who will be made to pay for the vaccine, adding that the inoculation would cost between US$3 to US$7 per dose.
He said the payment was meant to enable the government to “recoup” costs of procurement.
But yesterday, Ncube made a U-turn in a statement saying COVID-19 treatment would be free, claiming that his earlier utterances were taken out of context.
“It has come to my attention that my comments about the payment for the COVID-19 vaccine have been taken out of context,” Ncube said in the statement.
“I would like to make it clear that the vaccines that the government is procuring with the support of our international partners and friends, will be made available for free, to the citizens of Zimbabwe.”
Before the Finance minister issued his statement, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, in apparent response to the Finance minister’s initial position, said: “Life should not be bought.”
Chiwenga, who is also Health minister said this in his World Cancer Day address.
“Let me also reiterate that the government of Zimbabwe will roll out COVID-19 vaccines to all our citizens who may wish to be vaccinated. The policy is inspired by humane morals that life should not be bought,” he said.
Zimbabwe is expecting to take delivery of its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from China, which has pledged to assist troubled nations, including Zimbabwe, with vaccines to be delivered soon, according the Asian giant’s Foreign Affairs ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
Other countries to benefit include Belarus, Equatorial Guinea, Pakistan, Brunei, Nepal, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Pakistan and Sierra Leone.
Zimbabwe is also set to receive just over one million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in the first quarter under the Covax Facility, according to a document released by the organisers on Wednesday.
Last week, Ncube and Finance secretary George Guvamatanga said the country had mobilised about US$100 million for the purposes of procuring COVID-19 vaccines.
Reeling under the weight of the second wave of the coronavirus, with infections and deaths mounting, the country is expecting three million doses from the global facility meant to facilitate equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines across the globe to arrest the spread of the virus that has killed over 2,2 million people globally.
But Ncube triggered a storm when he said only frontline workers and the vulnerable would freely get the COVID-19 vaccines, while the rest of the population would be made to pay when people are already fretting over high COVID-19 PCR screening costs which they wanted to be provided for free.
“Private citizens will have to pay for the vaccine,” he told the State-controlled television station ZTN.
“The vaccine is actually cheaper than some of the personal protective equipment that we are procuring.
“There will be some payment model so that government can recoup the cost of procurement,” Ncube was initially quoted as saying.
He added: “It will be nice to cover everyone beyond the 10 million (targeted under the US$100 million facility), we want to cover the entire population.
“So, really paying something for the vaccine from private citizens is very important so that we can cover those who cannot afford at all.
“But there will be some groups that will be given the vaccine for free. The Health ministry will clarify all these issues and reveal how different groups within the country will be treated regarding the vaccination.”
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) said over 90% of Zimbabweans were “vulnerable”, hence would all require free vaccination.
“The harsh economic conditions currently obtaining in Zimbabwe have reduced almost 90% of the population to vulnerable citizens who cannot afford health care,” CiZC spokesperson Marvellous Khumalo said.
“Government employees continue to live far below the poverty datum line and affording the COVID-19 vaccination, which will cost between US$2,50 to US$7,50 per jab, will be an uphill task for most families,” he said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in his address to the nation yesterday, said his government was aiming at vaccinating at least 60% of the population to achieve population immunity.
“Our overall national response strategy has reached a stage where we can now introduce vaccines as a second front preventive measure.
“As such, COVID-19 vaccines which have been scientifically ascertained to be safe will soon be introduced. These will be state-funded and free,” he said.
“The first phase of inoculation will see our hardworking frontline workers, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions being prioritised.
“Nevertheless, government is aware that the vaccines do not provide 100% protection, or in part, immunity.”