Russia pledges COVID-19 vaccines to Zimbabwe, govt says it will resist ‘undue influence’ over vax choice

Zimbabwe Russia platinum
Mnangagwa and Putin in Moscow, January 2019

Zimbabwe is getting a COVID-19 vaccine donation from Russia, and has opened talks for more purchases from India and Russia, officials said Tuesday.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke on the vaccine a day after meeting officials of the local unit of Russian diamond giant Alrosa. 

“We also received another donation, yesterday, through Alrosa, from President Putin to Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa said as he began a Cabinet meeting at State House. He gave no further details.

A statement later issued by Cabinet said Zimbabwe would receive its first vaccines on February 15. The country is in talks with Russia, India and China for additional vaccines.

“In terms of vaccines procurement, the Government of the People’s Republic of China extended a donation of 200,000 Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine doses. The donation and initial batch purchased are expected in Zimbabwe by 15 February 2021 and the first week of March, 2021, respectively,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa told reporters.

“India, like China, has also offered a donation and an option to purchase commercially and modalities for this offer are still being worked out,” she said. No details were made available on the offers.

Mutsvangwa also said Government has also now formally applied for access to vaccines under the AU facility. The country is eligible to acquire up to three million doses under this programme.

Part of Zimbabwe’s vaccine procurement plan will see private companies also importing vaccines, and being allowed to keep half of any vaccines they bring in.

Second wave

As at Tuesday, Zimbabwe had 34,781 total cases of COVID-19, which has so far claimed 1,353 people in the country.

A sharp second wave of the virus has increased pressure on the Zimbabwe government to speed up the procurement of vaccines, and drawn criticism for the Mnangagwa’s administration’s handling of the crisis.

While Zimbabwe has said it has US$100 million for vaccines, it has been criticised for not formally applying for vaccines allocated to the country under the COVAX program, a global initiative led by the WHO.

But, according to Mutsvangwa, Zimbabwe will not be rushed into importing any vaccines.

“Zimbabwe’s vaccination programme, in particular the choice of vaccines, needs to be science-based, with adequate research and findings guiding decision-making and course of action,” she said, adding that “Zimbabwe will take decisions independently in the national interest, without undue influence.”

Mutsvangwa’s remarks appeared targeted at the UK government, whose embassy was quoted at the weekend as saying that Zimbabwe was yet to take up Britain’s offer for vaccines, comments that government officials took as tacit criticism.

The Ministry of Health has an ambitious target to vaccinate about 60% of the country’s population, or ten million people.