Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Of herd immunity and low vaccination turnout

….growing complacency or chaotic administration at vaccination centres

Kimberly Kusauka

When government rolled out the Covid-19 vaccination programme back in February this year, a lot has taken place in as far as the administration of the jab is concerned and quite a number of factors came into play as the nation embraced it.
The nation targeted to reach herd immunity in which 60 percent of the total population should be vaccinated by December this year, a deadline government set.
There are, however a number of factors at play pointing to hindrance to the achievement of the herd immunity chief among them being low turnout at vaccination centers, evidenced by shorter to no queues compared to the past few months.
Lack of information and misinformation regarding the Covid-19 vaccine in Zimbabwe appears to be stepping up, leaving several people across the country undecided on whether to be vaccinated or not hence hindering the nation’s target of reaching herd immunity by December.
Last month, Masvingo Provincial Medical Director (PMD) Dr Amadeus Shamhu said the province’s vaccination programme was at one point affected by staff shortages since most of the staff tested positive to Covid-19 and administration challenges where some centers who would run out of vaccine and take time to communicate for the delivery of the next consignment.
At the time, Dr Shamhu said the issue of staff shortages is a national problem hence the solution does not lie in the province.
“We cannot quickly resolve the issue of staff shortages anytime soon since it has to be approved by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development since they have to make a budget for the new staff salaries,” said Dr Shamhu.
About the administration challenges of getting enough vaccines for the province, Dr Shamhu said the province has no power to ask for the vaccines they need but they receive any consignment given to them, which is mainly influenced by the vaccine uptake.
“We do not bargain for the number of vaccines we need as a province but we receive any amount consigned to us and obviously we give districts where demand is high more doses than districts where the demand is low.
“The response to the vaccine is overwhelming in the province and centers end up having nothing to spare,” said Dr Shamhu.
He said so far 20 percent of the provincial population has been vaccinated and will provide current statistics as soon as he got them.
“We need to calculate the figures so that we know the number of people that have been vaccinated so far in the province, so last week we were at 20 percent,” said Dr Shamhu.
Medical expert, Dr Phineas Makurira said it is possible for the nation to reach herd immunity by December this year since government had involved private players in providing the jab which he feels will go a long way in making the vaccine more accessible and conveniently.
“It is still possible to reach targeted herd immunity because the channel of vaccination has improved whereby vaccination centers have been increased. Initially private sectors were excluded from offering the service.
“Our center (Makurira Memorial Clinic) has been inspected and we are now waiting for the government to deliver the vaccines so that we start vaccinating.
“Those in different provinces who have the right to distribute the vaccine should do it properly so that we reach herd immunity,” said Makurira.
specialists in the area however discovered that Zimbabwe’s low vaccine rate is as a result of societal myths and rumors surrounding Covid-19 vaccine that have created a hesitancy syndrome in people especially those living in the country’s remote areas.
Masvingo Provincial Covid-19 Taskforce spokesperson Rogers Irimayi said the province and the nation at large can reach herd immunity but people in remote areas are not fully participating in the vaccination program as well as abiding by rules and regulations as they think the pandemic is a myth and only affects those in urban areas.
“As a taskforce we are working everyday carrying out campaigns in a bid to reach herd immunity. However, we are having challenges with people from marginalized and rural areas who think that Covid-19 does not affect them as they shun wearing face masks; gather in large numbers at various events and thus living life the way they used to even before the pandemic.
“Therefore, we are trying by all means to disseminate information and educate them that they should get vaccinated and adhere to Covid-19 regulations all the time,” said Irimayi.
The exclusion of pregnant and lactating women from the vaccination programme has also been raised as another obstacle towards herd immunity achievement as they are also part of the target population.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) however said they will include the pregnant women, lactating mothers and children from 14-17 years in the vaccination program about a month ago but to date nothing has been done to include these groups and arguably, eyebrows have been raised on the commitment of government towards the set goal of herd immunity.
Public Relations Officer (PRO) in the MoHCC, Donald Mujiri said the Ministry is in process to vaccinate all eligible people and herd immunity could be reached within stipulated period.
“The Ministry is on the ground working on including the pregnant women, lactating mothers and children from the age of 14-17 in the vaccination program so that the country reaches herd immunity by December this year,” said Mujiri.
Mujiri said the MoHCC would continue acquiring more vaccines so that 60 percent of the total population would be vaccinated before year-end.
“The MoHCC is not stopping to look for more Covid-19 vaccines so that a total population of 60 percent would have been vaccinated by December and the nation would reach herd immunity,” said Mujiri.
Recently a provisional High Court order allowed unvaccinated congregants to attend church services together with the vaccinated members who have been attending services a few weeks ago which some experts say that this might lead to people relaxing and omit vaccination.
Zion Christian Church Leader Reverend Offiro Mawewe said the High court has done well by giving provisional order allowing unvaccinated members to attend church services because vaccination should be voluntary not mandatory though he however encourages church members to abide by the Covid-19 regulations so as to curb the spread of the virus.
“Allowing unvaccinated church members to attend church is a good move made by the High Court of Zimbabwe. I always wanted vaccination to be voluntary not mandatory.
“We are aware that the unvaccinated members might spread the virus to the vaccinated members in church but we will continue preaching the advantages of getting vaccinated and encouraging our members to get vaccinated as well as abiding by Covid-19 regulations at all times,” said Mawewe.
He also said it might not be possible for the nation to reach herd immunity now that lockdown measures have been relaxed from level four to two prompting reluctance among people.
“It is now a bit difficult for the nation to reach herd immunity since we are now in level two. The vaccination program will not be at the peak like it was during level four, so I think the nation will not achieve herd immunity by December,” said Mawewe.
Some commentators say that the spread of rumors about the vaccine on social media is causing hesitation and people end up opting not to take the jab hence the nation might not reach herd immunity by December.
In a story recently published by TellZim News, Communication specialist Dr Gift Gwindingwe said many online platforms spread unverified information thereby misleading people especially in the peri-urban and rural areas where people have limited access to the mainstream media.
“On social media platforms individuals are not concerned on whether they are sharing correct and verified information or not, unlike what professional journalists do on their official accounts, websites or in their official media channels,” said Dr Gwindingwe.
As at September 13 a total number of 2 856 955 people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 out of a total population of approximately 15 million people in the nation.

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