THE Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) says even though numbers of people who are now taking the vaccine have increased, the hesitancy that characterized the initial stages of national vaccination program might have slowed down progress towards inoculating 60% of the population that is required to achieve herd immunity.
By Michael Gwarisa
Herd immunity, or community immunity, is when a large part of the population of an area is immune to a specific disease. If enough people are resistant to the cause of a disease, such as a virus or bacteria, infection will not spread further.
Speaking during a Journalists Engagement on World Health Day Commemorations, Mr Paul Chinakidzwa the ministry of health’s Health Promotions Manager said since taking the vaccine is voluntary in Zimbabwe, prospects of achieving herd immunity will depend on people’s willingness to get vaccinated.
I am not sure of the length of time it will take to reach the 60% that is targeted with vaccinations because it depends at the rate at which people are coming for the vaccines. For example, in the first phase, we were targeting to vaccinate 100,000 people but there was slow uptake. Other things that we have also to consider is that of availability of the vaccines.
“We know there are a lot of countries and there is high demand for vaccines on the market. This might take us time to get other vaccines. However, of paramount importance is to look at our own demand for vaccination as a country. How many people are willing or voluntarily coming forward to get the vaccines?” said Mr Chinakidzwa.
He added that due to increased vaccine hesitancy by those who were supposed to receive the vaccines, Zimbabwe failed to reach its target of vaccinating 100,000 front-line workers during the first Phase of the vaccination program.
“It is only now that people are coming to get vaccinated and this COVID-19 is something new, we had never been involved in vaccinating people against COVID-19 before. If we go back to theories of adoption of innovations, you find that it takes place at different rates among different people.
“I was also looking at big countries like America, they are looking at availing enough vaccines for all adults in the country by end of May. This means even though a country as big as America has already started vaccinating its people, uptake is also not as fast as was anticipated.”
He also said the misinformation and rumors that characterized the period before vaccines were made available in the country have also led to high vaccine hesitancy as majority of people adopted a wait and see attitude. To date, Zimbabwe has vaccinated slightly above 200,000 people amidst indications that the health ministry has also ramped up its information dissemination processes to reach out to every corner of society.
Another obstacle standing in the way of vaccine uptake at a global scale is Vaccine nationalism and according to some experts, it might take not less than four years for the world to attain head immunity numbers.
World Health Organisation (WHO) Zimbabwe National Professions Officer for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), Dr Edmore Munongo said vaccine nationalism was putting resource poor countries such as Zimbabwe at a disadvantage as powerful nations were purchasing doses in excess while poor country are struggling to make ends meet.
“The theme for this year’s World Health Day is “Building a Fair and Healthier World. I am sure you are all aware of inequities that are happening in the provision of health services especially when we are faced with the current pandemic of COVID-19. Inequitable distribution of vaccines across the world with richer nations getting a bigger share and poorer nations struggling to get even the little that they can is making it difficult for low resource countries to advance vaccine access.
“They are other countries that have not even seen a single vaccine dose to date, so those inequities need to be addressed. While other countries actually have more than what they need, some are still struggling to get access to the vaccines. Countries like the United Kingdom two months ago had acquired not less than 350 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and yet the UK population is around 75 million people that means they actually acquired more than they actually need even if they to give each person two doses,” said Dr Munongo.
At least 159 countries have begun their COVID-19 vaccine rollout.