THE relaxation of COVID-19 containment measures over the past two weeks and the downgrading of the lockdown restrictions from level 4 to level 2 have resulted in the reduction in daily COVID-19 vaccination numbers, a development experts fear could work against the country’s target of attaining herd immunity by December 2021.
By Patricia Mashiri and Michael Gwarisa
Even though the numbers seem to be on an upward trajectory, data from the Ministry of Health vaccination figures since beginning of September show an inconsistently fluctuating trend. Figures from Daily Situation reports gathered since September 1 show that at some point, daily vaccination for the first dose dropped by almost 50 percent from 32 152 on September 3, 2021 to 16 765 on September 5, 2021.
The decline in first dose receivers continued on September 5 to 14 916. Under the same period, daily second dose recipients dropped from 16 329 on September 3 to 11 355 on September 4, 2021. The numbers for both first and second jabs recipients have been fluctuating since.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Health and Child Care Deputy Minister, Dr John Mangwiro warned that it was too early to “Let our guard down.”
Moving to lockdown level 2 is just a relaxation in measure but COVID-19 is still here. People should continue observing WHO and National regulations which were put in place including the statutory instrument on Public Health COVID-19 prevention, containment and treatment,” said Dr Mangwiro.
Zimbabwe has fully vaccinated about 11 percent of its total population since commencement of the national vaccination drive in February 2021. The country has set an ambitious target of inoculating not less than 10 million citizens by December 2021 and increase the Southern African country’s fighting chances against the deadly coronavirus.
Dr Lincoln Charimari, the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Response Manager said people should be getting vaccinated even though the number of new cases were on a downward trend.
"The number of new cases has no bearing on the vaccination program in terms of the numbers of people that must still be vaccinated and the strategies to vaccinate. The targets remain unchanged.
“The challenge might be people lowering their guard against Covid-19 prevention measures including the need to be vaccinated. In fact, this is a time to accelerate the program before the anticipated fourth wave Kenya is already in fourth wave. Herd immunity target remains vaccinating at least ten million people,” Dr Charimari said.
Public Health Expert and Epidemiologist, Dr Grant Murewanhema weighed in saying, “the vaccination momentum seems to be dying down. This low transmission period is the best to step up our efforts. Lockdown measures have been relaxed in Zimbabwe but let’s guard against relaxing, and keep on practicing strict prevention at individual level. Always remember numbers that are low at population become very significant when you become part of the statistics.”
Meanwhile, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) Executive Director, Mr Itai Rusike said the recent slow uptake of vaccines in Zimbabwe has however been exacerbated by a weak public vaccine deployment plan that is not supported by sustainable plans for tackling vaccine hesitancy and cooperation with non-state organizations and media.
“The government and its stakeholders in the health sector should have maintained the momentum and interest that had been created on the general public to get vaccinated by focusing on public health education on Covid-19 literacy using multimedia approaches to Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) by scaling up the use of social media, national broadcasting, free toll lines, pamphlets, newsletters, daily briefings and updates on the pandemic, national address by head of state and other measures for public attention.
“Unfortunately because of the information gaps, we have seen the rise of misinformation and science denialism by the anti-vaxxer brigade who are spreading fake news on various social media platforms resulting in the low vaccine uptake that will definitely make it difficult for the country to move towards reaching the required herd immunity of vaccinating at least 60 percent of the population by year end,” said Mr Rusike.
He added that planning for inclusion of hard-to-reach areas and groups was critical in the pandemic response.
“Beyond meeting the human resources for health and supply challenges, there is need to address other factors affecting equity in coverage especially in remote locations such as rural communities, resettlement areas and informal settlements where some people are still struggling to access health centers due to the long distance traveled to the nearest health facilities.