The Sunday Mail
Deputy News Editor
GOVERNMENT is finalising a nationwide rollout plan for Covid-19 vaccines, amid indications that Zimbabwe could take delivery of a substantial amount of doses next year.
Authorities have been designing distribution and vaccination prioritisation criteria strategies, with two extensive studies to assess the country’s readiness for a rollout having been undertaken.
Zimbabwe has recorded 10 424 cases of Covid-19, 8 754 recoveries and 280 deaths since March.
Chief Co-ordinator of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva, said last week that preparations for deployment of vaccines were underway through a multi-sectoral taskforce working in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO). She said Zimbabwe would not deploy experimental vaccines that have not been properly tested for safety.
“Zimbabwe will only rollout approved Covid-19 vaccines that have been analysed and found to be effective and safe for use,” said Dr Mahomva.
“Government is guided by science when deciding which vaccines Zimbabwe will approve and use.”
Zimbabwe is part of a global ground-breaking initiative led by WHO, known as Covax, which plans to secure and distribute millions of doses of vaccines to African countries, once licensed and approved. The initiative, which seeks to secure at least 220 million doses for the continent, will enable fast and equitable distribution of the vaccines.
Through the Covax initiative, vaccines that pass regulatory approval will be delivered equally to all participating countries in proportion to their populations.
Provisionally, the WHO distribution mechanism will allocate vaccines to all countries until they have enough doses to cover 20 percent of their population.
Zimbabwe has an estimated population of 16 million, meaning the country could potentially get up to 3,2 million doses under the first phase.
The Sunday Mail has gathered that vaccination of frontline health care workers and the elderly who are most vulnerable to the virus will be prioritised when the vaccines are deployed.
In addition to the Covax initiative, Government will mobilise domestic financial resources to procure additional jabs for the country, said Dr Mahomva.
She said any vaccine authorised by WHO under the Covax facility would have to undergo rigorous regulatory scrutiny by local experts.
“Let me update you on two processes taking place in preparation for vaccine deployment,” said Dr Mahomva.
“There is an important aspect of research which is part of vaccine development and is being led by the National Institute of Health and Research under the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
“Secondly, there are the actual rollout preparations, including resource mobilisation for approved vaccines that have been analysed and found to be effective and safe for use. On this front, Zimbabwe conducted its first baseline readiness assessment on October 13 using the Covax facility template.
“A follow up assessment was conducted on November 26 and both these assessments had the participation of the national Inter-agency Co-ordination Committee on Immunisation and the Zimbabwe Immunisation Technical Advisory Group.”
She said Government led the two studies in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF and Covid-19 vaccination stakeholders.
“Results of these assessments have shown that Zimbabwe has made good progress in preparing for the rollout of a safe and approved Covid-19 vaccine.
“More preparations are of course still in progress.
“These additional preparations include finalisation of both internal funding mechanisms through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and external funding applications for the vaccine itself and of course for the actual rollout processes.”
She said the preparations are informed by experiences from the country’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI).
Added Dr Mahomva: “When Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, it was clear that there was a need to develop not only safe vaccines but also to ensure that everyone had access to these vaccines. This is because the introduction of vaccines will not end the pandemic if only a few countries have access to the vaccine.
“This realisation pushed WHO, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and other global leaders on immunisation such as UNICEF to come up with a Covid-19 global access facility — in short Covax, to address this issue.
“The Covax facility led by WHO and GAVI is there to accelerate the development and manufacture of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines in order to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to vaccines for all countries, once of course the vaccines have been confirmed safe, effective and ready for deployment.”
Moderna, a US biotechnology company, has produced a vaccine that it says provides nearly 95 percent immunity against the virus, while another vaccine with almost equally the same efficacy has been produced by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech.
Another vaccine developed by the University of Oxford provides around 70 percent protection. China and Russia already have approved vaccines, but both are yet to complete the final round of tests on people.