BY VANESSA GONYE FINANCE and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube (pictured) was yesterday grilled by Parliament over the country’s preference of Chinese COVID-19 vaccines over a wide variety of approved jabs which resulted in US$132 million being spent on their procurement.
Ncube appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget and Finance to speak on transparency and accountability in the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines since the pandemic hit the country in 2020.
In July last year, Zimbabwe approved the use of the single shot American Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use but refused to accept a donation of the vaccine from the United States.
There are five approved vaccines for use in the country; the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm, the Russian Sputnik V and Indian Covaxin as well as Johnson & Johnson (Janssenn), but only the Chinese, Russian and Indian vaccines were imported.
Dzivarasekwa MP Edwin Mushoriwa demanded to know why Ncube favoured Chinese vaccines ahead of others and why they did not go through a bidding process according to procurement regulations.
Ncube denied any favouritism for the Asian countries from which Zimbabwe procured vaccines.
“By the time more vaccines were approved, we had already signed contracts with the Chinese companies, but we would have loved to go through a bidding process for the procurement had there been a choice,” Ncube said.
“We took the Chinese route because they were offering competitive prices.”
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He said China and India donated vaccines to Zimbabwe.
China made donations of over 12 million doses, but 10 million were yet to be delivered.
Ncube confirmed that the country had received over two million doses, a combination of Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines.
“Ten million more vaccines donated by China are yet to be delivered. They will come once we have run down the stocks that we are currently having because of storage issues as well as the slow uptake of vaccines. We are not short of vaccines but we are short of people to vaccinate, hence the blitz programme we recently started,” he said.
The Finance minister
said US$132 536 000 was used in the procurement of vaccines and syringes from China, India and Russia, while transport costs amounted to US$8,3 million, making a total of US$140, 91 million.
Despite the country using Chinese, Russian and Indian vaccines, as at April 1 this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had approved 10 vaccines for use.
These include Nuvaxovid, Covovax, Spikevax, Comirnaty, Ad26.COV2.s (Janssen), Vaxzevria (Oxford/AstraZeneca) Covishield (Oxford AstraZeneca formulation), Covaxin, Covilo (Sinopharm) and Coronavac (Sinovac).
The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe also approved several vaccines as fit for vaccination purposes against COVID-19 in the country before the Chinese lot was delivered.
Ncube, however, failed to explain the huge amount of money used in the procurement of vaccines given that the country had over 12 million donated doses and an ailing health system in which part of the money could be used.
As at Sunday April 3, the country had over 5,5 million people vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic. The targeted population to achieve herd immunity is 10 million.
The world’s coronavirus tracker posits that: “Zimbabwe has administered at least 9 694 465 doses of COVID vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs two doses, that is enough to have vaccinated about 33,1% of the country’s population.”
Ncube was also grilled over the country’s US$75 000 donation to Namibia at a time when the country was highly dependent on donations for its own vaccination campaign.
Ncube said the donation was an act of solidarity.
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