After receiving 200,000 Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines from China on Monday, Zimbabwe starts vaccinating health workers and other frontline personnel on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who is responsible for the health ministry, briefed Parliament on Zimbabwe’s vaccination rollout plan.
Here are the key takeaways from Chiwenga’s presentation:
Who gets vaccinated and when?
The government plans to vaccinate at least 10 million people, to cover about 60% of Zimbabwe’s population.
The vaccination rollout will be done in three phases, starting with frontline workers. Health and security personnel as well as Zimra, immigration and agriculture extension services will be covered under the first round of the first phase. The second round of the first phase will target the elderly (60 years plus), those with chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and TB, the prison population as well as refugee camp inmates.
The second phase covers teachers, lecturers, all college and school staff populations as well as any other workers deemed to be at medium risk, “depending with the epidemiological picture of the disease at that time.”
The rest of the population will be vaccinated in the final phase three.
How many frontline workers will be vaccinated during the first round?
According to Chiwenga’s schedule, around 60,000 people will be vaccinated in the first round, including all 49,000 health workers employed in the public service, about 4,200 medical staff in the security services, Zimra and immigration department personnel as well as agriculture extension workers, who number nearly 7,000.
What is the vaccine rollout going to cost?
The health ministry has submitted a US$6.8 million budget to the Treasury, to cover the operational side of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout across the three phases. This figure does not cover the US$100 million which the government says is for vaccine procurement. The operations budget covers planning, training, allowances, PPE, logistics, vaccination, surveillance and waste disposal.
How long will the first round take?
Chiwenga said the first round of vaccination is expected to take 10 days. The second round, which targets groups such as school teachers, is expected to take five days because, according to Chiwenga, he expects the rollout to gain efficiency with time.
“The assumption is vaccination will be conducted over 10 days in the first round and five days in the second round. You might be asking why 10 days first – it is because our staff is still learning and obviously when you are starting something you have not yet learnt the tricks and by the second round we think they will be more experienced and they will do it faster,” Chiwenga said.
What about vaccine storage?
The Sinopharm vaccine requires storage within the 2-8 degree celsius temperature range. Chiwenga said the government shall ensure adequate, functional cold chain equipment at all levels, from the national storage at Natpharm in Harare, to the 10 provincial centres, 63 district cold rooms and 1,800 service delivery facilities across the country.
“So, during this period, we want to make sure and we are working with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to make sure that all our generators in all our areas are working in the event that there is power cut because we are also in the rain season,” Chiwenga said.
“In the event that there is a power cut, the generators must kick off to make sure that we do not spoil and end up losing a lot of vaccines.”
What about COVAX?
Chiwenga confirmed that Zimbabwe has signed up for the COVAXinitiative, which is driven by the World Health Organisation, global vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). COVAX seeks to ensure that all 190 countries currently participating in the facility have equitable access to two billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.
Zimbabwe has a quota of 1.1 million vaccine doses under the Covax preliminary allocation.
To date, only AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and GlaxoSmithKline-Sanofi, have signed up to supply vaccines through Covax.
“The Covax, we signed for it. They required me and the Minister of Finance to sign and we did that,” Chiwenga said, adding that Zimbabwe had also signed up for the AU facility, through which Zimbabwe can access 3.3 million doses.
“What we are now waiting for is to see the delivery. What we have said to everyone is, you do not determine the vaccine for Zimbabweans. It is Zimbabweans who will determine their own vaccine. That way we will not be given what is not required by Zimbabweans,” said Chiwenga.
Zimbabwe is registering Sinovac
Zimbabwe is in the process of registering Sinovac, a second Chinese COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine is now in its last stage towards being registered for emergency use by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ). Zimbabwe is also monitoring 15 other vaccines to see if they can be considered for use in the country.
“Sinovac produces larger quantities. We are in the process of registering Sinovac right now. They have given us (data on) Phase I and Phase II. We are waiting for documents for Phase III. They will be registered shortly,” Deputy Health Minister John Mangwiro told MPs.