BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
SOME private medical doctors are reportedly charging fees for citizens to get the COVID- 19 jab, a development which health experts yesterday said was likely to trigger profiteering in the country’s vaccination programme.
Government declared that COVID-19 vaccination would be administered for free to local citizens while foreigners would pay.
However, information gathered by the NewsDay showed that some private health institutions were charging between US$40 and US$60 for locals to get their two jabs, and at least US$100 for foreigners to be inoculated.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa confirmed that there were some private institutions that were offering the jab outside the government-run vaccination programme, but he professed ignorance on the criteria used in arriving at the charge.
“There are some private medical institutions that have stocks of the vaccines. They might have a special arrangement with authorities to offer the vaccines privately. But as to the charges for the vaccines, I am not sure,” he said.
Another private medical doctor who spoke to NewsDay on condition of anonymity confirmed the sale of the vaccines to citizens at some named private clinics.
He said they were doing it openly as they had approval from “authorities”.
“It is highly likely that there is a special arrangement between government and some selected private medical institutions to offer the vaccines to citizens at a charge,” the doctor said.
“They are, however, offering only the vaccines that are being used under the national vaccination programme. They are catering for those financially stable citizens or some foreigners who do not want to wait in queues to get the jab at public health institutions.”
However, Health deputy minister John Mangwiro said he was not aware of any arrangement which permitted private administration of the vaccines.
“Government’s position is that vaccination is free to all citizens,” he said.
COVID-19 national taskforce chief coordinator Agnes Mahomwa curtly said: “COVID-19 vaccines are free to all citizens.”
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said a lot of people who got their first jab were struggling to access the second one, which could be prompting the private sale of vaccines.
“The profiteering motives of some private health facilities on COVID-19 vaccines even in a pandemic and emergency situations require some strict monitoring by civil society and communities to make sure that no one is left behind because of the unacceptably high fee barrier,” he said.
Rusike said government should make the vaccine readily available in an equitable manner and avoid stock-outs.
He said by allowing the vaccine to be sold privately, government risked losing the gains made in the national vaccination programme it initiated.
“Zimbabwe is one of the leading countries in the region in proper implementation of the vaccination programme. It is a fact that government should be proactive and quickly address the current vaccine stock-outs to avoid killing the encouraging huge demand and interest from the general public to be vaccinated,” Rusike said.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday approved the Chinese-manufactured Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine as safe for emergency use.
The Sinovac vaccine, manufactured by a pharmaceutical company based in Beijing, was already in use in several countries, including Zimbabwe, without WHO certification.
“The world desperately needs multiple COVID-19 vaccines to address the huge access inequity across the globe,” said Dr Mariângela Simão, the WHO assistant director-general for access to health products.
“We urge manufacturers to participate in the COVAX facility, share their know-how and data and contribute to bringing the pandemic under control.”
Vaccine efficacy results showed that the vaccine prevented symptomatic disease in 51% of those vaccinated and prevented severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation in 100% of the sampled population.