MDC Alliance Weekly Health Alert

Zimbabwe needs the covid-19 vaccine now.

Welcome to our weekly covid-19 update. In our fight against the covid-19 pandemic, we have emphasized the tools currently available to us, namely social distancing, masking up, avoiding super-spreader events like funerals, overcrowding in ZUPCO buses, uncalled for incarceration in prison cells for minor offenses, parties & weddings, and promoting hand washing and sanitizing, quarantine and isolation. These tools are aimed at preventing covid-19 infection from happening at all in the first place. Now we have a new kid on the block, called a covid-19 vaccine. It works by training our bodies to fight and defeat covid-19 when it enters our bodies. This is not a new tool in our fight against viral infections. It has given us great success against diseases like small pox, measles, polio, and many others.

There are things we must do right as a government and its people to benefit from the explosion of knowledge and vaccine technologies that we are witnessing today.

Firstly, we expect the government to do some due diligent processes to instill confidence into the population and allay the myriad of anxieties that presently cloud our minds. We want to know:
Are the vaccines on offer safe?
Are they better than the disease we are trying to prevent?
Are they efficacious (i.e. do they work)?
Do we have verifiable scientific data on safety and effectiveness, and have our own scientists verified the claims of the manufacturers?
This is a good opportunity for Zimbabwe to start building capacity for vaccine manufacture. It’s doable.

It was exciting news to learn that the government has set aside a sum of USD100 million for vaccine procurement, and that all those who meet the clinical criteria will receive the vaccine for free. We were further tickled by the proposed roll out plan, to front line workers first, and then to the elderly and those with co-morbidities, reaching out to other sectors next. We await the detailed roll out plan that must be made public.

We also want to know:
Is the government tapping into the COVAX facility, and are we going to work with other reliable partners we have worked with before in the field of immunization?
What is the breakdown of government’s budget for this immunization effort, considering important pillars such as procurement, logistics, storage, distribution, administration, training and human resources?
What is our current level of preparedness in terms of the cold chain?
How is this going to affect the other immunization programs already in place, and how much money has the government set aside for research? The government should commission and fund research into covid-19 without delay. There is urgent need to understand how our vaccine choice will be impacted by emerging new variants like the so-called South African variant.

We need to raise awareness on the benefits and risks of vaccines in general, and of the covid-19 vaccine more specifically, and demystify conspiracy theories and other myths doing the rounds. There is need to involve other stakeholders like church leaders, traditional leaders, healthcare providers, workers’ unions, captains of industry, students, telecommunication companies, civil society, the United Nations family, and other partners, right from the beginning. We consider it prudent for the government to set up a multi-stakeholder advisory board on covid-19 vaccination, and give it both authority and responsibility. Transparency is extremely important in this venture, in light of our past experiences with covid-19 designated funds.

We urge all Zimbabweans to be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to us, but until such a time as enough people have been vaccinated to reach the so-called herd immunity, there is need to contain the pandemic aggressively through existing means. These include eliminating all super spreader events, cushioning citizens and businesses economically, ensuring scientifically informed targeted lockdown measures, and providing adequate support to schools to open safely as the pandemic will be with Zimbabwe for most of 2021. We need to go a gear up in terms of testing, contact tracing and isolation. There is need to improve our services to those who get the infection. This means increasing the number of admission facilities, equipping healthcare workers properly with PPE, and conducting continuous training of health workers because information on this disease is continuously evolving.

Lastly, we wish to implore Zimbabweans to listen to our healthcare professionals for advice on vaccination. Let’s leave our prophets to concentrate on spiritual matters. We have been here before, and we all probably know some friends or relatives who lost their lives prematurely to HIV because of prophets in the past.

Here are a few key facts we all need to know about the covid-19 vaccine:

• Over 100 million covid-19 vaccine doses have already been administered globally.
• The covid-19 vaccine will help prevent you from getting sick with covid-19.
• People who have already gotten sick with covid-19 may still benefit from getting vaccinated. We do not know yet how long immunity from natural infection will last.
• Covid-19 vaccines cannot give you covid-19 disease. More on this next time.
• Covid-19 vaccines will not cause you to test positive on covid-19 viral tests.
• Covid-19 vaccine will NOT alter your DNA. We will explain this next time.
• There is no microchip in the covid-19 vaccine. This is only a malicious rumour. It is the job of our regulatory authorities to verify the safety of all medicines, including vaccines.
• Remember, after getting your vaccine you must continue to observe all the other prevention measures like masking up, social distancing, hand washing, sanitizing, etc. till the pandemic is over. The job of the vaccine is simply to prevent you from getting sick if you contract the virus.

More information on vaccines next week.

Many thanks to the MDC-Alliance Health Portfolio Committee for their input.

Dr H. Madzorera.
Secretary for Health and Childwelfare.