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Zimbabwe prepares COVID-19 vaccine rollout under COVAX

GOVERNMENT is finalising a nationwide rollout plan for Covid-19 vaccines, but realistic indications are that Zimbabwe could take delivery of a substantial amount of doses around mid-2021.

However, the Zimbabwe Voice is reliably informed that the initial vaccines will cover about 3% of population, primarily those at highest risk such as health workers, the elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions. 

The Zimbabwe Government is now actively participating in COVAX, a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, which have been licensed and approved.

Chief Co-ordinator of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr. Agnes Mahomva, said last week that preparations for deployment of vaccines were underway through a multi-sectoral taskforce working in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Zimbabwe will only rollout approved Covid-19 vaccines that have been analysed and found to be effective and safe for use,” said Dr. Mahomva.

“Government is guided by science when deciding which vaccines Zimbabwe will approve and use.”

COVAX currently has the world’s largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio – including nine candidate vaccines, with a further nine under evaluation and conversations underway with other mayor producers.

Added Dr Mahomva: “When Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, it was clear that there was a need to develop not only safe vaccines but also to ensure that everyone had access to these vaccines. This is because the introduction of vaccines will not end the pandemic if only a few countries have access to the vaccine.

“This realisation pushed WHO, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and other global leaders on immunisation such as UNICEF to come up with a Covid-19 global access facility — in short COVAX, to address this issue.”

COVAX aims to provide African nations with enough vaccines to cover 20% of their populations.

Zimbabwe has an estimated population of 16 million, meaning the country could potentially get up to 3,2 million doses under the first phase.

Dr. Mahomva said any vaccine authorised by WHO under the COVAX facility would have to undergo rigorous regulatory scrutiny by local experts.

“Let me update you on two processes taking place in preparation for vaccine deployment,” said Dr Mahomva.

“There is an important aspect of research which is part of vaccine development and is being led by the National Institute of Health and Research under the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

“Secondly, there are the actual rollout preparations, including resource mobilisation for approved vaccines that have been analysed and found to be effective and safe for use. On this front, Zimbabwe conducted its first baseline readiness assessment on October 13 using the COVAX facility template.

“A follow up assessment was conducted on November 26 and both these assessments had the participation of the national Inter-agency Co-ordination Committee on Immunisation and the Zimbabwe Immunisation Technical Advisory Group.”

She said Government led the two studies in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF and Covid-19 vaccination stakeholders.

“Results of these assessments have shown that Zimbabwe has made good progress in preparing for the rollout of a safe and approved Covid-19 vaccine.

“More preparations are of course still in progress.

“These additional preparations include finalisation of both internal funding mechanisms through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and external funding applications for the vaccine itself and of course for the actual rollout processes.”

She said the preparations are informed by experiences from the country’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI).

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for Africa at the World Health Organization, said that it might start providing African nations with vaccines to cover about 3% of populations, primarily those at highest risk such as health workers and elderly people, by the end of the first quarter of next year, to then scale up to 20%.

But to achieve levels of herd immunity there is a need to vaccinate about 60% of the population, meaning the continent will need to procure the funding to fill this gap.

To reach this threshold, it needs about 1.5 billion doses of vaccines, with the understanding that each vaccinated person receives two doses. To pay for this, the continent needs to mobilize about US$10 billion to US$12 billion, he said.

“The largest immunization drive in Africa’s history is right around the corner, and African governments must urgently ramp up readiness,” Moeti said in a statement.

“The largest immunization drive in Africa’s history is right around the corner, and African governments must urgently ramp up readiness.”

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for Africa, World Health Organization

Some key challenges facing the rollout include vaccine hesitancy, as misinformation about vaccines circulates across the continent, as well as adapting strategies to target adults, when typically vaccination campaigns target children.

Widespread campaigns to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in Africa will likely only begin in the second quarter of next year because of challenges around accessing vaccines and preparing countries for their distribution, said John Nkengasong, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director, during a press conference Thursday.

“It will not be, in my view, up until the middle of next year before we start truly getting vaccinations into Africa,” he said.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented global health challenge that can only be met with unprecedented cooperation between governments, researchers, manufacturers and multilateral partners,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

“By pooling resources and acting in solidarity through the ACT Accelerator and the COVAX Facility, we can ensure that once a vaccine is available for COVID-19, it’s available equitably to all countries.”

The goal of COVAX is by the end of 2021 to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification.

These vaccines will be offered equally to all participating countries, proportional to their populations, initially prioritising healthcare workers then expanding to cover vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Further doses will then be made available based on country need, vulnerability and COVID-19 threat. 

The South African government has also confirmed it will go ahead with the COVAX global distribution COVID-19 vaccine distribution scheme with a committed purchase for 10 percent of its population of 59 million.

According to the Director of affordable medicines at the ministry of health, Khadija Jamaloodien, South Africa’s initial strategy is to protect the vulnerable, including healthcare workers and priority groups.

South Africa has a record of the most COVID-19 infections on the African continent, with more than 760,000 confirmed cases and more than 20,000 deaths to date. – Zimbabwe Voice / Sunday Mail / WHO / Devex ■

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