ZIMBABWE’s ambitious target of attaining 60% Covid-19 herd immunity by December is in doubt, with only 15.9% of the country now fully vaccinated , three months before the government’s set deadline to inoculate 10 million people.
While the authorities insist that Zimbabwe is on course to reaching herd immunity, the country remains with an unrealistic chance of achieving the feat. The government aims to vaccinate 10 million citizens, representing 60% of the population, since it launched a national vaccination programme in February this year.
Zimbabwe is, however, among 15 African countries that have reached the global goal of fully vaccinating 10% of the population against Covid-19. Almost 90% of high-income countries have met this target.
Although Zimbabwe has done well to purchase the much-needed vaccines from China, it is unlikely to meet the target by December.
It has taken the country nearly eight months to inoculate 10% of the population.
Most of the population has been vaccinated using Chinese-made Sinopharm and Sinovac jabs, which have been approved for use by the World Health Organisation.
Zimbabwe kick-started the vaccination program targeting front-line workers, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions following an initial donation of 200 000 Sinopharm vaccines by China.
Zimbabwe has so far administered 3 140 685 first doses while 2 358 223 people had received their second jabs as of Wednesday this week, according to the ministry of Health and Child Care. While the government has made use of coercive measures to promote Covid-19 vaccination, achieving immunity within the remaining three months remains a challenge, although it has resulted in an increase in people seeking vaccination.
As part of measures to compel people to be vaccinated, the government has used intimidatory tactics, among them, threatening to ban unvaccinated civil servants from work and barring unvaccinated people from attending church services and other social gatherings.
Several companies and parastatals have followed the government’s stance, forcing the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to take some employers to court for allegedly violating workers’ rights.
Vice-President President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also Health minister, has lashed out at those launching lawsuits against mandatory vaccination, reminding them that civil liberties are not absolute.
The government has told civil servants unwilling to be vaccinated that they were at risk of losing their jobs while some private companies have also been hauled before the courts for threatening to fire their unvaccinated employees.
While the threats have resulted in an improvement in vaccination rates, the numbers have not been overwhelming, given the high number of unemployed persons in Zimbabwe, who do not fear losing their jobs.
Information secretary Nick Mangwana admitted on Twitter on Monday that vaccination numbers were slowing down.
“Our vaccination rate fell last week to its lowest since July. That is probably explained by complacency. But our vaccination strategy is aligned with our economic recovery strategy. It means our economic success is underpinned by our getting a herd immunity among other things,” Mangwana wrote.
In an interview, the national chief coordinator of the Covid-19 response team, Dr Agnes Mahomva, remained adamant that the government is poised to reach herd immunity by December.
She said Zimbabwe had done well as compared to other African countries.
“There are still chances that we will reach our target, as we have received new vaccine doses. We are now looking at how we can strengthen the logistics on the ground to ensure that we reach every corner of the country,” Dr Mahomva said.
“To ensure that people from remote areas get their vaccines, we are using existing Expanded Programme For Immunisation structures to ensure that we reach anyone in the corner of Zimbabwe.”
There has been widespread scepticism around vaccination, due to a lack of effective communication regarding the vaccines, their safety and effectiveness.
Commentators say the authorities have not done enough to dispel misconceptions and myths surrounding vaccines.
“Vaccines that have been used in Zimbabwe have been carefully analysed by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe, which approves every vaccine in Zimbabwe. They have been providing full information concerning the vaccine through television, newspapers and radio stations. We recorded a huge number of people coming to get vaccinated,’’ Dr Mahomva said.
However, she admitted that the government has not recorded the number of people willing to comply and those who have remained sceptical towards getting vaccinated.
Initially, the government was reluctant to approve the vaccination of pregnant women due to a lack of research data assuring their safety .
Dr Mahomva said the World Health Organisation has confirmed the vaccines are safe for use by pregnant women. The UN agency is also looking forward to the vaccination of children aged between 14 and 17.