ZIMBABWE on Monday received its first Covid-19 vaccines – 200 000 doses donated by China. A further 600 000 doses from China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) are set to arrive in early March.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, head of the delegation that received vaccines which included the Finance minister Mthuli, said frontline health workers would be the first to be vaccinated.
Chiwenga in fact became the first to be vaccinated yesterday.
While government previously promised to ensure further clinical trials would be done locally before the vaccines are distributed amid rumours, misinformation and scepticism about their efficacy and side-effects, it went ahead to start distribution without scientific and strategtic verifications.
Authorities said frontline health workers and health personnel in the security forces would be the first to get the jab.
This has raised many questions about President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s approach.
What is government’s Covid-19 plan? What is their strategy? What are tactics to be used in the battlefield against Covid-19.
Where is the programme or the road map – with detail on the target groups, places, their names, regions and locations as well as timelines – for the vaccine roll out?
Amid fevered speculation about the vaccine itself and the roll out programme, as well as lack of transparency and accountability battle lines are drawn around that.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has written to government asking it to first embark on an information campaign, consultations, clinical trials and other critical stages before moving to vaccinate the population in the dark.
The lawyers gave government until today to reply to their ultimatum, or else they go to court to stop the unplanned and possibly soon chaotic roll out programme.
While the vaccine has hit the Zimbabwean market, there has been much less focus on a critical aspect of the equation: ensuring the right people get the right vaccine at the right time.
Failure to do so will allow Covid-19 to remain at large, with those most in need who wallow in poverty likely to lose out.
A lack of robust and comprehensive health information and accountability system will make it difficult for the vaccination programme to work out.
Planning for vaccine distribution and identification of vulnerable groups needs to be transparent to ensure its access is equitable and that people know who gets what, when, where, how and why?
Transparency is also key to ensure that access, or lack of it thereof, is not used to the detriment of marginalised populations, or to create a political patronage feeding trough — something we saw happening in Covid-19 procurement and supplies during the first wave last year.
Mnangagwa’s family was entangled in a US$60 million Covid-19 procurement deal fronted by dodgy businessman Delish Nguwaya, who is close to them.
Deputy minister John Mangwiro was caught in a corrupt US$5.6 million coronavirus deal as well.
So there are risks which need to be mitigated: theft, corruption and weaponisation, as well as security.
While most vaccines have little street value, those in power and positions of influence can always come up with corrupt deals for self-enrichment involving procurement, supplies and distribution.
Government must be transparent and accountable on this. They must release information on all these issues.
That it is what the recent Misa High Court judgment was partly about. Add to this the real risk that vaccines will become a new weapon with which powerful states can leverage to wield geopolitical influence, or indeed leaders can use to eliminate their political rivals.
Given that Covid-19 is virulent and lethal, political predators can always deploy that on their opponents.
That is why government and those distributing the vaccines need to ensure that supply chains have corruption and security safeguards in place, and that systems are in place to actively monitor the implementation of the framework and vaccine rollout.