With 400K more COVID-19 vaccine doses, Zimbabwe targets school staff, religious leaders for vaccination

Chinese ambassador Guo Shaochun and President Mnangagwa receive COVID-19 vaccines

Zimbabwe will target the education sector, religious leaders and people with chronic illnesses to ramp up the country’s slow COVID-19 vaccination programme after 400,000 more vaccine doses arrived from China on Tuesday.

A consignment of 200 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, bought by the government, and a donation of another 200,000 Sinopharm vaccines, arrived aboard an Air Zimbabwe charter early on Tuesday. Zimbabwe also imported 1.2 million Sinopharm medical consumables, such as syringes, to be used in the rollout.

The Sinovac vaccines are the first that Zimbabwe has bought. Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said government plans to buy two million Sinovac doses. Receiving the shipment at the RGM International Airport, President Emmerson Mnangagwa thanked China for making vaccines available for purchase, at a time world supply is tight.

“The People’s Republic of China’s unparalleled readiness to avail access to the vaccines for commercial procurement testifies to our shared and mutual desire to continue enhancing cooperation particularly in these times of distress and competition for resources,” Mnangagwa said.

“My administration is confident that this vaccination intervention will greatly contribute to our country’s realisation of herd immunity.”

Vaccination uptake has been slow, with just 37,660 frontline workers of the 60,000 that had been targeted for the first phase having been inoculated by Monday.

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According to Chiwenga, a new phase of vaccinations will target school staff, religious leaders and other vulnerable groups.

“We are going to intensify our rollout plan. We are now going into the second phase with vigour, including, for example, the teachers so that the education system can operate at full throttle. We are also looking at the heads of all (religious) denominations, and people with chronic illnesses,” said Chiwenga.

Government, criticised for its lethargic communication around the rollout, will have to intensify its engagement with the church, where influential leaders have for months fuelled conspiracy theories against vaccines.

Also of concern has been the slow vaccinations among health workers. However, Deputy Health Minister John Mangwiro claims that this has been more to do with logistics than opposition to the vaccine.

Said Mangwiro: “So far, it was only frontline workers, and these are all over the country. But we are now extending the vaccinations to church leaders, school teachers, other members of society, those with ailments, such as high BP, asthma, diabetes, to come forward and be vaccinated.”

China and vaccines

At a time when vaccines have dominated geopolitics, Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Guo Shaochun, said his country opposes “vaccine nationalism”.

“A number of vaccines are now available around the world. It is now up to each country to decide, which vaccine to choose. Whatever it is, a Chinese vaccine or not, it is a good vaccine, so long as it is safe and effective. China opposes vaccine nationalism. We reject any attempts to politicise vaccine cooperation,” said Guo.

What mattered most, he said, was getting vaccines to people as quickly as possible.