BY TATENDA CHITAGU
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a consortium of 20 civic society organisations, has demanded an explanation from government on the acquisition of the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as its rollout.
Speaking at the at the triple burial of Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Sibusiso Moyo, Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza and former prisons boss Paradzai Zimondi at the National Heroes Acre on Wednesday, Acting President Constantino Chiwenga said the government would roll out COVID-19 vaccine “soon” .
In a letter to the Health and Finance ministries, the forum said the government should provide funding mechanisms and specific timelines for the acquisition and distribution of the vaccine and asks whether citizens could choose from the various vaccines being developed by different countries.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube did not budget for the vaccines in the 2021 national budget and this may call for a supplementary budget to factor in money for purchasing the vaccines.
“The forum is convinced that health issues are matters of serious concern in relation to human rights,” wrote Musa Kika, the executive director of the Forum.
“COVID-19 has demanded that prompt decisions and action be taken by those in authority. We are calling on the government to publish a comprehensive strategy on COVID-19 vaccines. Failure to respond within seven days to our call will lead to court action.”
In a response dated January 28, Health and Child Care acting secretary Robert Mudyiradima said the country has taken “a measured approach on the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines” due to a number of factors.
“There are scientifically different types of vaccines that were being developed with different degrees of efficacy, risks and side-effects. Some types have never been used in human beings and are purely experimental. Some are not for those under 16 years of age or pregnant women due to the associated risks which excludes a huge proportion of our population,” he said.
Mudyiradima said the country was not prepared technically and logistically for transporting and storing the vaccines, some which need very low temperatures.
“The logistics of transport and maintaining the cold chain are extremely difficult considering that they may require temperatures as low as -70 degrees celsius and that is a challenge for distribution in rural areas. The proposed liability and indemnity agreements with manufacturers to Zimbabwe need to be looked at carefully.
“We also need to choose and deploy vaccines in a way that adverse effects can be traced to a particular vaccine and manufacturer. The cost of the different types of vaccines is also different,” Mudyiradima said.
He said vaccination was by choice and backtracked on who gets first priority for vaccines.
“Priority groups are frontline essential staff such as health workers, security sector, those with comorbidities, the elderly and others considered to be at risk,” he said.
Mudyiradima said the government would fund procurement of the vaccines, but said it was welcome to any assistance from the private sector and will handle it transparently.
He said the State would decide on the type of vaccine to buy and would use its existing systems for importing and distributing the vaccine.
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