Rumbidzayi Zinyuke and Mukudzei Chingwere
While Zimbabwe has so far avoided a third wave of high levels of Covid-19 infection, public health experts stress that everyone has to stick to all the prevention measures since complacency can allow the infection rates to spin out of control very quickly, as has been seen in India this week with world record daily totals for a single country of 360 000 new cases and 3 293 deaths on Wednesday.
The third wave has been building up in India despite the major vaccination programme there that has seen tens of millions receiving their first jab, with good vaccine supplies since India is a major producer. But the Indian population is so large that the percentage of the population vaccinated is still modest and a long way from the herd immunity that could allow relaxation. But the recent surge has seen India now surpass 18 million cases and 201 187 deaths.
India’s hospitals are being overloaded by the huge surge of infection and crematoriums in New Delhi are so overloaded that families have resorted to erecting funeral pyres on open plots of land. Even some industrial oxygen supplies have had to be diverted to hospitals as the normal supply chains overload.
Everyone knows that vaccination is the only long-term answer, but until herd immunity is achieved in a country, something that requires at least 60 percent of the population being vaccinated, major outbreaks caused by complacency in the population are a risk. Vaccination rates below herd immunity levels can help protect those who have had their jabs, but do not provide the firebreaks that stop an outbreak spreading.
Zimbabwe has around 400 000 people with first jabs, but this is only 4 percent of the minimum 10 million required for probable herd immunity.
So while Zimbabwe’s health authorities continue to stress the preventative measures, the vaccination programme once again was accelerated yesterday with the launch of the private sector vaccination drive that will add capacity to the Government’s own accelerating efforts.
After a modest start in February, with some of those targeted nervous about getting their jabs, the programme has gained traction over the past month with 388 021 people having received their first dose by Wednesday, while 69 992 people have so far received their second dose. These figures for the second dose, given four weeks after the first, reflect the slow initial uptake.
Speaking during the launch of the private sector initiative yesterday, Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro said there was need to accelerate the vaccination roll out to ensure the intended population was vaccinated.
“Indeed, the private sector has risen to the challenge and of its own volition, joined in the battle to minimise the spread of Covid-19 and its effects on those infected. Mass vaccination against the virus at present seems to be the only hope that there is to overcome the virus. This should increase the speed with which the Government vaccination programme will be implemented. It will help increase the pace of vaccinations and hopefully remove any doubts that those who have been delaying a decision on vaccination may have had,” he said.
Government resources were limited and stretched and a private sector initiative to help meet the cost of some of the vaccines was welcome. Vaccines acquired by the private sector will be dispensed through facilities belonging to health insurer Cimas and business premises countrywide. Those vaccinated will not pay, but the initiative sees private sector funding to add to Government budgets so speed delivery.
Under the business preparedness prevention and response initiative, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Bankers association of Zimbabwe, Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe, Insurance Council of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Council for Tourism and the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce pooled resources and ideas to provide a coordinated response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cimas was appointed the programme’s technical partner and health advisor for the private sector vaccination initiative. Cimas board chairperson Mrs Emma Fundira said the primary goal for the initiative was to support the Government’s vaccination programme by raising funds.
“We are indeed proud of the cooperation there has been between the private sector and Government in the joint fight against the virus. The development of Covid-19 vaccines now offers the world hope that these may prove to be a means of overcoming the virus and a return to some form of normalcy,” she said.
“We anticipate that this private sector initiative will contribute to increasing the pace at which the required herd immunity is reached in Zimbabwe. It is our hope that this demonstration of confidence in the vaccine by the private sector organisations will encourage those who are sceptical to come forward and be vaccinated. We pledge our continued support for your efforts and those of Government as a whole in overcoming this virus and its effects on so many people.”
She hoped that the cooperation between the Government and private sector would lead to other areas of cooperation in the national interest.
“Such success stories for private and public sector partnership should be encouraged as it creates positive synergies required to stimulate economic growth and prosperity,” she said.
After the launch of the vaccination drive, several leaders from the business community took their first doses of the vaccine as part of a drive to instill confidence among members of the public.
The Ministry Health and Child Care has stressed that while vaccination efforts accelerate, precautions still have to be taken. There is no third wave of infection in Zimbabwe, despite rumour-mongering, but keeping such a wave at bay requires everyone to adhere to all Government and World Health Organisation mitigatory measures. The ministry noted a third wave would invite a clampdown on people’s movements through high-level lockdowns, which came with serious economic consequences and a huge effect on people’s livelihoods.
Speaking yesterday during this year’s commemoration of the African Vaccination Week, Deputy Minister Mangwiro said more groups would be called in for vaccination.
“I am happy to inform you that despite widespread misinformation about vaccines and vaccination in general, this exercise is going on very well in the country. We have remained focused and shall continue to educate our people and cast the eligibility net wider until everyone in the country is vaccinated and protected,” said Dr Mangwiro, in a speech read on his behalf by chief director curative services in the ministry, Dr Maxwell Hove.
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Judith Ncube also responded to talk of a third wave yesterday, noting that this was premature but that everyone had to “remain vigilant and always exercise the laid down the rules and regulations to contain the virus”.