By Dr Henry Madzorera Secretary for Health and Child Welfare MDC-Alliance
Safety is the most important thing in any vaccination program. Efficacy is another issue that needs to be determined here in Zimbabwe.
With 95% of our virus being the South African variant, we do not know whether the Sinopharm vaccine will give us efficacy results comparable to what they reported in China and other countries.
We are now in phase 2 of our vaccination program. The aim of our weekly health alert is to inform the public and assist you in making wise decisions about prevention and treatment of this new disease.
We collaborate with a wide range of scientific minds and it is our patriotic duty to help in curbing this pandemic in our boarders, to hold government to account regarding national resources, to prevent corruption, looting and tender-preneurship, and to agitate for the best possible covid-19 prevention and treatment interventions for Zimbabwe.
We call upon the authorities to be transparent in the issue of vaccine choice and procurement, the issue of cost of the vaccine, and the disclosure to the public of data available from the manufacturers, the World Health Organisation, and other countries regarding safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
Choice of a vaccine should not be a purely political issue, but we should examine safety and efficacy rigorously.
Please note that we do not have all the answers related to covid-19 vaccination. In fact no one on earth does, not even the World Health Organisation.
The disease is evolving daily, and so is the science to fight it.
Our recommendations are based on current knowledge and sound science, as we know it now, and on the work and advice of the World Health Organisation.
When knowledge changes, we will not hesitate to advise on the new understanding. A good example is, we were told before that as much as 61% of the virus circulating in Zimbabwe was the B.1.351 variant, originally identified in South Africa.
More recent studies have now shown that this variant accounts for 95% of the virus circulating in Zimbabwe, and the transition happened at the time of the second wave (December/January). This is worrisome, and we feel the Government of Zimbabwe must work together with our neighbour South Africa in deciding on the best way forward with the choice of vaccines, and closely sharing data on safety and efficacy.
Another pending issue is that the World Health Organisation has not yet issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Sinopharm vaccine, though the required dossiers were submitted.
WHO had promised to give their determination by early March, but this was moved to early April for reasons unknown to us. It is the WHO which looks into the issue of good manufacturing practices after inspection of facilities, and we await their advice.
However, please note that for most vaccines, countries started using the vaccines before the WHO had issued its EUA, because of the urgency of the matter before us. Good examples are the Moderna, Sinovac and Sputnik V vaccines which also still await EUA from WHO just like Sinopharm.
There are however vaccines with EUA from WHO like the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine, and these may come to us through the COVAX facility. Could government please update us on when we may expect to receive vaccine from the COVAX facility.
Our advice regarding the Sinopharm vaccine, which is the only vaccine government has procured, has not changed. We have no problem with the vaccine as far as the science behind it is concerned.
It is an inactivated whole virus vaccine, and we have been using several vaccines made in the same way in Zimbabwe for the past half a century. We are also aware that Sinopharm has been used in several other countries and there are no significant adverse events that have been reported. We still urge all Zimbabweans, especially the front line workers, to get vaccinated now.
If this vaccine turns out to be as efficacious as has been reported elsewhere, there will be a scramble for the vaccine and many front line workers may then fail to access it.
We note the recent arrival of Sinovac vaccine, another Chinese inactivated virus vaccine. It seems to have a good safety record where it has been used, and we recommend all who can, to get vaccinated by whichever vaccine is offered to them. Other vaccines are in the offing. We do not know yet whether one can get vaccinated by more than one vaccine type, serially.
There are studies underway to see if this would confer better protection, so we wait for results, and while we wait, we get vaccinated with the available vaccine!
We eagerly await results from the first phase of this vaccination program. When South Africa used the Astra Zeneca vaccine, they were very quick to assess its efficacy and make the necessary changes quite early in their vaccination program.
To date, over 61000 people have received their first dose and 6569 have received their second dose of Sinopharm. We want a scientific update now. The pharmaco-vigilance unit should give us either a daily or a weekly update on adverse events.
The platform for that already exists.
We implore the government to be very transparent and quick to announce any suspected adverse events following immunization if any should occur, while they work hard to establish the presence or absence of a causal link, like they did in Europe with Astra Zeneca vaccine (the reported clotting disorders). That kind of quick action solidifies the people’s confidence in the vaccination program.
Lastly, we as the MDC-Alliance and President Advocate Nelson Chamisa note with pleasure the recent ten-fold increase in uptake of the vaccine. Whatever the reasons are, we think that is the right direction for Zimbabwe to take.
Many thanks to the MDC-Alliance Health Portfolio Committee for this informative article.