Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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Why vaccine hesitancy is rife in Masvingo


Dr Ammadious Shamhu

By Tatenda Chitagu

The Sinopharm and Sinovac BioTech COVID 19 vaccines have
joined the long list of products from China that are treated with disdain by

Dubbed Zhing Zhongs, most products from the East Asian giant,
touted as the country’s ‘all-weather friend’, are shunned for being substandard
and not durable.

Even though Health Minister Constantine Chiwenga, who is also
the vice president, was the first one to get the Chinese COVID 19 jab, his
public gesture has not been emulated by frontline workers in Masvingo.

Chiwenga’s principal, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who only got vaccinated
weeks latter when a second batch that included another Chinese Sinovac Biotech
vaccine arrived, at one time said those not inoculated will not board public

“Nobody is forced to be vaccinated….but
it will come a time when those who are not will not board ZUPCO buses,” he said.

Chiwenga also reiterated the president’s
point this week in an interview with broadcaster Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa, saying
the COVID 19 vaccination card could be soon used as a passport to public
utilities if people continue shunning the vaccination program.

But the message from the country’s top
citizens, it seems, is falling on deaf ears in the province.

Out of the initial 22 000 doses supplied to Masvingo province
on 19 February, only 3 600 front liners were inoculated as of last week,
according to statistics availed by the provincial COVID 19 taskforce.

Masvingo provincial medical director, Dr Ammadious Shamhu
said there are around 6 600 health workers in the province, excluding other
frontline government workers who are targeted for the initial inoculation
program. This means not all frontline health workers have been inoculated as
the figure of those who got the jabs includes other frontliners like
journalists and others at high exposure to the pandemic.

Some of the few frontliners that got inoculated said they did
so ‘out of fear’. This follows the taking over of the mass roll-out program by
the army medical personnel, as well as threats from government.

Investigations by this publication reveal that among other
reasons, suspicion and stigma are the top causes of the low uptake of the
vaccines, with many developing a wait and see attitude.

“We do not know if there are side effects or not, or whether
the vaccines are effective. You know everything Chinese is not trusted in
Zimbabwe,” one nurse said in an interview, off the record due to retribution

“Better the devil we now know (COVID 19), than the vaccine we
do not. After all, COVID 19 has chances of recovery. What if you get lifelong
side-effects from a vaccine you do not understand,” another frontliner from the
security services confided to this publication.

Worserning the mistrust were remarks by former Masvingo
provincial medical director, Robert Mudyiradima, now Chief Director responsible for Policy, Planning and
Monitoring & Evaluation in the Ministry of Health and Child Care in
Zimbabwe, who admitted that no tests were done on the Sinopharm vaccines in the
country to establish its efficacy.

Mudyiradima made the
admission when the country received its first batch of the 200 000 Sinopharm
vaccines on 15 February at the Robert Mugabe international airport, some of
which were donated to Zimbabwe.

“When we immunise, we
will take the evidence that it works or not, it has not been tested yet so we
cant say it works or not to the new South African variant,” Mudyiradima said in
remarks that unsettled government.

Health and Child Care deputy minister
John Mangwiro, in a firefighting measure, told Senate a week later that the
Sinopharm vaccine from China does not need further clinical trials as they were
already done internationally to check its effectiveness.

“Before it is administered on people, we
have what we call the World Health Organisation which writes to confirm that
yes, this vaccine does work, and for example, to see how it works, it can be
administered on a sample of five or ten healthy young men. What we have now in
the country is a vaccine that has been dealt with already,” Mangwiro said.

This did not help matters either.

“When there are conflicting signals from
the top, it shows some discord, We are afraid we will be used a guinea pigs,
especially when the vaccine was donated. Free things may be expensive in the
long run,” another Masvingo frontliner said.

Itai Rusike, Executive
Director, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) said the vaccine hesitancy
is due to a number of factors which include scepticism on government itself,
mistrust of Chinese goods as well as social media misinformation.

“Scepticism of
government, the Sinopharm vaccine and the general mistrust of Chinese goods and
products has laid fertile ground for the vaccine hesitancy, anti-science
opportunism and fear mongering that the country is currently  experiencing in its  Covid-19 national vaccination roll-out
programme resulting in the general poor uptake of the Sinopharm vaccine.

“Social media, including
Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, has been targeted both by those spreading
disinformation, with organised campaigns building on previously existing fault
lines in our society. Both social and traditional media operate on a business model
that rewards alarmist “click bait”. We need to limit the spread of
harmful health misinformation and disinformation in Zimbabwe through
strengthening citizens’ resilience to mis/disinformation.  Empowering media partners to professionally
share lifesaving information and debunk disinformation on Health,” Rusike

Rusike said there is
need to de-politicise the COVID 19 pandemic and increase awareness for improved
vaccines uptake.

“Politicians have used
both Covid-19 and the emergence of vaccines against the disease to score points
and raise their profile. We need Covid-19 vaccine Champions representing
various constituent groups such as Politicians, 
Religious Leaders, Youth’s Organizations,  Civil Society, Health Professionals, Persons
with Disabilities etcetera to assist in convincing their members followers and
supporters to embrace vaccination willingness if the country is to achieve the
required herd immunity of vaccinating at least 60 percent of the population.
Public trust and confidence will now have to be rebuilt in the vaccine itself
and requires an urgent widespread communication strategy and plan,” he said.

Citizens Health Watch
trustee Fungisai Dube said government needs to engage and consult more with the
people than try to coerce them.

“It goes back to raising
awareness among the ordinary citizens. So for me it’s lack of information. The
campaign on the vaccine should be taken seriously and to the communities. It is
not a matter of imposing it on people. Engage citizens, dialogue with them so
that there is buy in this regard. Imposing a vaccine on a period of speculation
make it really difficult for people  to
accept the vaccine,” she said.

Called for a comment on why there is so
much vaccine hesitancy in Masvingo, Mangwiro said the vaccination program is
getting a by-in in other provinces and people in Masvingo need more awareness.

“In Harare and Victoria Falls, vaccination centers are
overwhelmed. We need to make people aware, and that is also your duty as
journalists. Otherwise people will die and you start blaming the government
again. Let us be serious as Zimbabweans,” he said.

Mangwiro said his Ministry officials will come to Masvingo to
assess the situation and engage the frontliners on the need for vaccination.

As of Friday, the country had recorded 36,778 cases, with  34,555 having recovered while 1,518 died.

TellZim News is the leading news organization in the Southern region. It provides candid, balanced and timely news from the communities. Keeping it real. Committed to tell Zimbabwe.

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