BY MOSES MATENGA
GOVERNMENT yesterday sensationally claimed that the opposition MDC Alliance was stuck with over half a million “unregistered COVID-19 vaccines” which it allegedly received from the United States embassy in Harare to inoculate its party supporters.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba made the claims on his Twitter handle @Jamwanda2, adding that the party’s top executives were now desperate to have the vaccine formally registered with local health authorities.
But the opposition party rubbished the claims, and accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration of “politicking over a COVID-19 crisis”.
“MDC Alliance is in a bit of a bind which it now seeks to resolve, abortively aided by the undiplomatic US man here,” Charamba said.
“They have been given two tranches of American vaccines, in total amounting to half a million doses, for a political vaccination programme through which they hope to checkmate the goodwill that has accrued to Zanu PF through a sprite public vaccination programme.
“The two vaccines they have been given are not registered in Zimbabwe. Therein lies their dilemma. The laws of the country do not allow importation of unregistered vaccines.”
Charamba claimed the US embassy’s strategy was to “stampede” the Health ministry to force government to accept importation and administration of unregistered vaccines, using the Covax facility.
“This would then provide cover to this political donation. Unfortunately for them, Chinese, Russian and Indian vaccines, which are now registered for use in the country, are now registered with the WHO [World Health Organisation], making them part of the Covax menu. Zimbabwe insists that any assistance under Covax limits itself to those registered vaccines.”
Charamba alleged that a “top embassy official” wrote directly to the Health ministry hoping to get a directive.
“In terms of diplomatic communication etiquette, embassies write to line ministries through Foreign Office, a route which this top embassy official decided to sidestep out of desperation. Of course, (the) Foreign ministry was not amused and rapped knuckles of the official.
“Meanwhile MDC Alliance stands unstuck and transfixed, with the item getting repeatedly deferred at their top meeting. Upshot: the new, frenetic pro-vaccination messaging by the MDC Alliance officials and party is not a change of heart or greater public health awareness. It is political,” said Charamba, who declined to give finer details when NewsDay called him for comment.
MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere rubbished Charamba’s assertions.
“There is no truth whatsoever to this. The MDC Alliance has not received vaccines from any person or organisation. It’s a matter of regret that government officials are politicking over such an important issue given the vaccination hesitancy that needs to be addressed,” she said.
“As far as we are concerned, the priority is to save lives. So we urge every person to observe all COVID-19 protocols. Mask up, sanitise, and practise social distancing. Get vaccinated. No life should be lost when it can be avoided.”
A source privy to the matter said it was the Zimbabwean government that rejected a donation of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine from the US at a time when the southern African country is struggling to secure adequate vaccines to achieve its targeted 60% herd immunity.
In June, Finance ministry secretary George Guvamatanga wrote to Afreximbank regional chief operations officer Humphrey Nwugo expressing disinterest in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“The government of Zimbabwe notes that there is an allocation of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine due for August 2021. However, I wish to advise that the government of Zimbabwe is not yet ready to participate in the August allocation as measures are still being put in place to establish the cold chain management framework for the vaccines, as well as on management of the anticipated adverse effects of the vaccine following inoculation,” he wrote.
NewsDay has also established that the US had offered to donate over 155 000 vaccines to Zimbabwe to aid the fight against the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, but the offer was turned down.
The snub reportedly irked top US officials, who felt the Zanu PF government was insincere as it was struggling to reach its target in vaccinating the nation that is now under siege as the virus is wreaking havoc.
The US embassy was expected to issue a statement over the matter late last night.
Before Charamba’s diatribe, suspended Harare mayor Jacob Mafume, MDC Alliance secretary-general Chalton Hwende and the party’s international relations secretary Gladys Hlatywayo had taken to social media exhorting their members to get vaccinated, adding that council clinics should embrace all WHO-approved vaccines.
“These are extraordinary times. We have to be vaccinated at a faster pace to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Like Hwende, I have had mine to give our bodies a fighting chance. All and any vaccines are a must. All council clinics should have them,” Mafume tweeted.
In February this year, government rejected a vaccine donation sourced by British ambassador to Zimbabwe Melanie Robinson through the Covax facility, with Charamba describing it as “vacuous”.
Zimbabwe has opted for vaccines from its friendly countries that include China, India and Russia.