BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
ZIMBABWE has turned down its allocation of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine, citing storage constraints and scepticism over possible side effects despite being under the threat of a third wave and facing a harsh winter.
The southern African nation has set a long-shot target of vaccinating 10 million people by the end of the year to achieve 60% herd immunity, but has run out of vaccines.
Many countries in the West stopped the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April to investigate links to cases of a very rare, potentially life-threatening condition involving blood clots and low platelet counts.
A similar condition has also been linked to the AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.
Some countries, however, have resumed the usage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after concluding that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the potential risks.
Zimbabwe, however, said it was not ready to receive the vaccine.
“Government notes that there is an allocation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due for August. I wish to advise that government is not yet ready to participate in August allocations as measures are still being put in place to establish the cold chain management framework for the vaccine,” Finance ministry secretary George Guvamatanga said in a letter addressed to African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank)’s regional chief operations officer Humphrey Nwago.
Guvamatanga also said Zimbabwe was not yet prepared for the anticipated side effects of the vaccine.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is seen as ideal for Zimbabwe’s ambitious rollout programme in that it only requires one shot while unpunctured vials may be stored between nine degrees and 25 degrees Celsius for up to 12 hours.
African countries have a deal to access 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine under a US$2 billion procurement deal announced at the end of March.
Under the same deal, which is backed by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Africa could access a further 180 million doses.
The vaccines will be supplied through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, set up in November 2020 under the African Union to pool resources to buy vaccines, which are in short supply globally.
Most of the vaccines were supposed to come from South African pharmaceutical firm Aspen’s Gqeberha plant.
Guvamatanga said government hoped to have its “internal processes ready in time for the next allocation”.
Zimbabwe has to date received just over 1,735 million doses of Sinopharm, Sinovac and Covaxin.
Despite shortages, government last Friday said it had enough COVID-19 vaccines for those needing a second shot after some centres ran out of doses since last week and thousands of people were turned away.
So far, 687 321 people have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while another
380 786 have received their second jab.
When contacted for comment, COVID-19 taskforce national co-ordinator Agnes Mahomva said she could not comment as she was in a meeting, but told public broadcaster ZBC that those needing second shots would get
She acknowledged the shortages, adding that some centres were vaccinating faster than others, especially in Harare and Bulawayo, and had run out of vaccines.
“The doses are there, they are not in the large numbers that we would like, but then that is the challenge that the whole world is facing,” Mahomva told ZBC.
“The message that I want to bring out to the public is ‘please don’t panic’.”
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