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Covid-19 vaccination turns elitist amid shortage

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THE vaccination programme in Zimbabwe has turned elitist, with only those with foreign currency having access to doses at private health facilities, while the rest are being turned away from public institutions due to shortages.

BRIDGET MANANAVIRE
Zimbabwe has been experiencing vaccine shortages for more than two weeks.

The authorities are being evasive about the shortages, claiming people can still easily get the first and second doses at public facilities, but the situation on the ground tells a different story.

Ministry of Health officials say the country received 1.7 million doses, and as of 2 June a cumulative 1 040 214 doses had been administered, with 682 242 being first doses and 357 972 second doses.

The vaccines are now readily available at private clinics such as Health Point in Harare where they are going for US$20 for locals and US$50 for foreigners.

Initially, the government had planned to sell the vaccines to the public, but later reversed the decision after a public uproar.

In February, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said private citizens would pay for the vaccine and later said the donated vaccines would be free.

“Look, private citizens obviously would have to pay for the vaccine as we have maintained the vaccine is actually cheaper than some of the personal private equipment (PPE) that they are procuring,” he said in an interview with state media.

“So, there will be some payment model so that government can recoup the cost of procurement.”

While the first doses are unavailable at most public institutions, the facilities still able to administer the second dose are now limiting numbers.

The main vaccination centre, Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital, which seemed to be the only institution able to administer the second dose, was this week only taking a maximum 100 people per day.

An analysis of the daily situation report (sitrep) published by the Health and Child Care ministry also shows a massive drop in the administration of first doses from as high as 22 248 for first doses administered on 7 May, when Zimbabwe reached the half million mark, to as low between 1 000 to 4 000 this week.

Zimbabwe planned to buy one million Covid-19 vaccines a month in the second quarter, according to Ncube.

Ncube said at beginning of the year that government had set aside US$100 million to acquire vaccines as he was just waiting for the go-ahead from scientists as to which vaccines to acquire.

Zimbabwe has registered four vaccines for use, including the Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac, the Russian Sputnik V and the Indian Covaxin.

In Harare, the few places that are administering the first dose had long, winding queues throughout the week. At most centres, vaccines were running out after a few hours.

On Saturday, many health facilities in Harare, including the private clinics, were turning away people who wanted to get their first doses, including Parirenyatwa Hospital, Avondale Clinic and the Cimas Clinic.

On Wednesday, Wilkins Hospital staff told those seeking the first dose that the government had given an instruction for the suspension of the first dose.

Zimbabwe has been getting a good rating for its vaccination programme since launch on 18 February. As of 2 June, Zimbabwe was ranked 80th out of 163 countries with the most doses administered.

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