Dar es Salaam. Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu on Wednesday received her first jab of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, signalling a turnaround for the country that only five months ago was in denial about the pandemic.
Her innoculation, which was shown on State television via the Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation, is symbolic and is meant to push Tanzanians to come out and receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
The US Embassy in Tanzania did not waste time, and immediately tweeted about the vaccination drive initiated by the Head of State. The US had recently donated the vaccines through the Covax facility.
President Suluhu’s jab was among the 1.05 million vaccines that the US donated to Tanzania recently, and was delivered through the Covax facility which is a scheme facilitated by the World Health Organization to ensure poorer countries have access to Covid-19 vaccines.
Tanzania, which has confirmed more than 682 coronavirus cases and 29 deaths, spent a year in denial, with former President John Pombe Magufuli doubting the quality and intention of Covid-19 vaccines, test kits and face masks donated to Africa.
At one point, he told Tanzanians that a secret testing of a variety of animals, fruits and vehicle oil tested using donated kits had returned positive results for a piece of goat meat and papaya.
However, after his former Deputy Suluhu succeeded him following his death in March, the country has walked back on some of its denialist policies.
Dar joined Covax in late June, effectively accepting delivery of its first batch of the vaccines.
Now, only Eritrea and Burundi are yet to order Covid-19 vaccines.
Tanzania has gone on to ban public gatherings, imposed compulsory wearing of face masks, social distancing and hand sanitisation in public spaces.
“I urge my Fellow Tanzanians to continue to take precautionary measures against Corona (Covid-19) as directed by our Healthcare Professionals such as to regularly wash our hands with running water and soap, wearing masks at all times and always maintain social distancing,” President Suluhu tweeted last week.
With the launch of the vaccination drive, the government aims to vaccinate 60 per cent of its population by end of next year.
In a statement released on July 26, Tanzanian Health Minister Dr Dorothy Gwajima said the drive will continue shortly after the President gets her jab.
“After the launch, the Ministry of Health will continue with procedures for the distribution of the vaccine which will be made available at various health centres across the country...The launch of vaccination exercise sets a precedent for our nation in advancing the fight against Covid-19,” reads part of the statement.
The first phase of the vaccination exercise will target essential service workers like medics, security agents, Immigration officials and teachers, as well as the elderly.