By Dr Henry Madzorera
Secretary for Health and Child Welfare
Sinopharm is coming
Bingo! The much-awaited roll out plan for COVID-19 vaccine is now here, so let’s be brief! Essential elements announced by the ministry of Health and Childcare include:
*• *All eligible members of the Zimbabwean population will be vaccinated FREE OF CHARGE.
*•* A total of 800 000 doses will arrive next week from the People’s Republic of China. A quarter of those doses is a donation and the balance was purchased.
*•* We are getting the Sinopharm vaccine, with efficacy rates of 76-86% according to trials done by the Chinese.
*•* Negotiations to acquire the Russian Sputnik V vaccine are at an advanced stage.
*•* Other vaccine sources and facilities are being examined.
*•* The first group to receive the vaccine will be front line workers who include health workers; ZIMRA, Customs, Immigration and other ports of entry personnel; funeral parlour workers, security personnel, and village health workers.
The plan is in the public domain and I will not lay all of it out here. Some more detail is required to make the plan implementable, and we do hope the detail is on its way. We need to know the size of each target population in all the phases of vaccination, e.g. how many health care workers are we targeting?
When we say security, how many people are those (are we referring to the uniformed forces?), etc.
There are a few important aspects to consider when selecting a vaccine: these include vaccine efficacy, safety, cost, and accessibility (can we lay our hands on the vaccine?). We do hope that government has put in place robust mechanisms of tracking the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine in Zimbabwe. Within the first six weeks of commencement of vaccination, we should know what the efficacy of the vaccine is in our own setting, considering the emergence of various mutants of the virus.
We also hope that government will soon tell us whether or not we have the South African variant here, and any other variants that may exist. Before we amass large quantities of the Sinopharm vaccine, we need to borrow a leaf from the South African experience and ascertain the level of efficacy of the vaccine quite early in our effort.
In its favour, the Sinopharm vaccine has a lot of positives. It is produced using time-tested methods. It is made from inactivated (i.e. killed) COVID-19 virus. There are many other vaccines already in use, which are produced by similar technologies, like the flu and polio vaccines. These vaccines are generally safe and should not cause much controversy. It is stored at the usual temperatures we already employ in our expanded program on immunization, i.e. 2-8oC. and does not require cold chain conditions different from what we already have. Supply is not likely to be problematic, as long as we can pay for it. I am sure the Chinese are well able to produce the vaccine in massive quantities.
Lastly, the vaccine should generally be cheaper than vaccines made from newer technologies. It will be helpful, in the interests of transparency, for government to tell us what we are paying for this vaccine in terms of cost.
As a last word, Zimbabweans are tired of institutionalized corruption particularly in the area of procurement. We hope the government will do this one important thing correctly this time and save thousands of lives. We are currently counting the cost of this pandemic in terms of deaths only. We have not started collating data on long-term disability caused by COVID-19, as other countries are doing.
We also have not heard reports from our paediatricians on whether young children are suffering any delayed complications as has been reported in the literature in other countries. It is a story in the making and we need to diligently deploy all resources available to the fight against COVID-19.
COVID-19 is no respecter of persons. Let us remember to wash our hands, sanitise, stay at home unless it is vitally important for you to go out, avoid funerals, parties and other super spreader events.