Vaccine shortage hits COVID-19 programme

BY VANESSA GONYE/LORRAINE MUROMO/ SILAS NKALA / NIZBERT MOYO

ZIMBABWE’S on-going COVID-19 vaccination programme has been hit by shortage of vaccines after several people who turned up at inoculation centres for the first dose in some parts of the country were turned away, while the second dose was said to be in limited supply.

The country launched a countrywide inoculation exercise in February this year, targeting to achieve herd immunity which is about 60% of the population.

The vaccine shortage comes at a time when the country is facing a deadly third wave of COVID-19, as well as the new Indian variant, which has already been confirmed in Kwekwe.

Investigations by NewsDay at several vaccination centres throughout the country revealed that Harare and Bulawayo vaccination centres were experiencing a shortage of the jabs, of either the Chinese Sinopharm, Sinovac or the Indian Covaxin vaccines.

In Harare, only Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital was administering both the first and second doses yesterday, while centres such as Parirenyatwa and Sally Mugabe Central hospitals, as well as Mabvuku Polyclinic had recorded stock-outs.

COVID-19 taskforce chief co-ordinator Agnes Mahomva confirmed the shortage, adding that government was in the process of redistributing vaccines from areas with an oversupply.

“We are aware of some centres that are saying they have run out of vaccines and the ministry is in the process of redistributing the vaccines from centres with an oversupply of the vaccine as we cannot have some places with vaccines expiring after we have procured more,” she said.

Bulawayo City Council’s health services director Edwin Sibanda confirmed the vaccine stock-outs at some centres.

“We are expecting some extra stocks this week as we have been promised to avert the crisis, but we do not know how many. The second dose is there, meaning that we cannot increase the number of people vaccinated since these doses go in pairs,” Sibanda said.

Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Solwayo Ngwenya said it was worrying that the nation was experiencing vaccine stock-outs when it was under threat of the Indian B16172 variant.

“Actually, we should be having a variety of vaccines because each of them have different efficacy rates. Once we run out of stock, we are not going to achieve the 60% herd immunity of the population,” he said.

“We are having a new variant, a very aggressive variant in our population and with our population behaving like we are doing, this virus is going to spread like wildfire and we are going to see mass infections.”

However, at places like Mahusekwa Hospital in Marondera, COVID-19 doses were said to be in abundant supply.

Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health chairperson Ruth Labode said the shortage was caused by unequal response to the vaccine campaign.

“Some provinces have very little vaccine utilisation while others have used up their allocations. The question is should vaccines be moved from areas with low uptake to those areas with high uptake,’’ Labode said.

Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa said the stock-outs were caused by limited stocks.

“Government in total ordered
600 000 vaccine doses: 400 000 of Sinopharm and 200 000 Sinovac, and so it was actually a limited number. A lot of people snubbed the vaccination process and it was not very important to order millions of doses when even frontliners were reluctant to get vaccinated,” he said.

“I am hopeful and optimistic that government is going to order more since the uptake has increased in the past few weeks, considering that World Health Organisation actually approved Sinopharm as an emergency vaccine for use.”

Senior Hospital Doctors Association president Shingai Nyaguse said: “It appears the vaccine stocks at hand are running low. It is understandable that they would reserve stock on hand for those still in need of a second dose.  Most vaccines have shown that immunity becomes more clinically significant after the second dose. We would urge the government to rapidly acquire more vaccines as we are in a race against time to stave off a third COVID-19 wave.”

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