BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA /PRESTIGE MUNTANGA
AN acute shortage of nursing staff to administer COVID-19 vaccines at local health centres has reportedly slowed down government’s mass vaccination programme at a time when there is high demand for the doses due to a continued surge in deaths and new infections.
The country last week received two million doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China and government has pledged consistent supply of the doses to achieve herd immunity — which is 60% of the population or 10 million people — by end of year.
Since the vaccination programme started in February, Zimbabwe has taken delivery of 4,257 million vaccines.
Although the doses were available at several clinics in Harare, there were long queues as members of the public waited for hours on end to get vaccinated due to shortage of staff.
City council-run health institutions around the country were hard hit by the massive exodus of nurses since last year due to poor wages and unfavourable working conditions.
Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme said the health institutions were shortstaffed, resulting in long queues of people wanting to get vaccinated.
He said more people could be vaccinated each day if there were enough nurses to administer the jabs at the health centres around the city.
“We are facing shortages of staff which is contributing to the slow pace of administering the COVID-19 jabs,” Chideme said.
“The figures of people who are getting vaccinated could have been higher if we had enough nurses at our clinics. The problem is we cannot have all our nurses at the health institutions participating in the vaccination programme.
“There should be some providing some services for the day-to-day running of the health centres. So, the few that are assigned to the vaccination programme are taking longer to administer the jabs, which has resulted in long queues at health institutions.”
Vaccination centres in Bulawayo experienced the same challenges amid reports that United Bulawayo Hospitals lost one nurse to COVID-19 at the weekend while Pumula Clinic lost two.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo urged government to intervene urgently as the health sector is losing workers to the pandemic each day.
“Health institutions are having less and less workers as each day passes. Some are being affected by COVID-19 while others are leaving the country,” he said.
“There are some who are just staying at home due to low morale. It is going to be a disaster soon, when we get to a situation where a clinic will be left with just two or no nurses at all.
“Those long queues of people waiting to be vaccinated are exposing the health workers to the virus. To expedite the vaccination process and attain the herd immunity target, people should never wait in queues to get inoculated. Government should address nurses’ challenges to retain them.”
As of yesterday morning, a total of 926 312 people had been vaccinated with the first down against COVID-19 countrywide.
Health deputy minister John Mangwiro could not be reached for comment as he was said to be in a meeting.