Zimbabweans are finding it increasingly difficult to access Covid-19 vaccines as the country records a spike in new infections amid fears of a third wave.
The southern African country started a mass vaccination programme in February with a target to inoculate 60 per cent of its nearly 16 million people by year’s end.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government initially relied on vaccines donated by China to drive the vaccination programme, but after vaccinating 697,399 people as of June 15, the exercise is running into serious logistical problems with stockouts being reported across the country.
Organisations tracking the vaccination said several Zimbabweans were turned away from immunisation centres that have run out of jabs.
“I got my second dose at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare, but what I witnessed there was tragic,” said Stephen Gwere.
“Fights broke out in the queues as nurses informed people that those who wanted the first dose would not be served because the vaccines had run out.”
Parirenyatwa is the second-largest public hospital in Zimbabwe and has been the nerve centre of the country’s vaccination programme.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), a non-governmental organisation tracking the vaccination, said that many people were being turned away on the grounds that vaccines were not available.
“While the government’s vaccination drive has seen a large number of citizens vaccinated, there is still a huge gap to get to the desired vaccinated 60 per cent of the population in order to achieve the required herd immunity,” ZPP said in its latest Covid-19 Accountability Tracker.
“Even so, it appears the vaccines are fast running out with people at times turned away from vaccination centres because the vaccines have run out…There is an urgent need to address the vaccine issue so as not to undermine the progress made so far by having part of the population only getting the first dose and then failing to get the second dose of the vaccine.”
Zimbabwe recently imposed strict localised lockdowns in three districts that had recorded a surge in Covid-19 cases, and banned gatherings as well as sporting activities across the country.
In Kariba, a district bordering Zambia that was put under a localised lockdown last week, Covid-19 vaccines are said to have run out.
“Demand for vaccination is high, but we are out of the vaccine,” said Malvern Dhliwayo, the acting district medical officer.
“The Sinopharm doses have been exhausted for both the first and second doses.
“As for Sinovac, we are only left with the second doses. It means we're out of the first dose.”
Zimbabwe has so far been using the two Chinese Covid-19 vaccines – Sinopharm and Sinovac – to inoculate its population. It also has small stocks of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine that were donated by a diamond mining company.
Agnes Mahomva, the chief coordinator of the Covid-19 task force in Zimbabwe, attributed the stockouts to increased global demand for vaccines.
Dr Mahomva said they were trying to manage the available stocks by giving the vaccines to vulnerable groups such as the aged and frontline workers.
Zimbabwe recently turned down three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, saying the country had no refrigeration facilities to store the supplies and the capacity to deal with possible side effects.
The donation was from an African Union initiative to step up Covid-19 vaccinations across Africa and it was expected to boost Zimbabwe’s vaccination figures.
Critics said the rejection of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine did not make sense.
Norman Matara, of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, said Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines were stored at the same temperatures as Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, which Zimbabwe has used since February.
“So, it does not make sense to say they do not have cold chain reactions,” Dr Matara said.
“The cost of rolling out that vaccine is much less than the Sinopharm and Sinovac and also the logistics of one dose is much better than the two-dose provided by Sinopharm and Sinovac.
“So, we do not get why they would reject those vaccines.”
As of June 26, Zimbabwe had 40,556 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including 37,075 recoveries and 1,640 deaths.