By Bernard Mpofu
Zimbabwe might take five years to reach herd immunity against Covid-19 if the current vaccines uptake is not increased dramatically.
The country started rolling out its Covid-19 vaccination programme in February after receiving vaccines from China, but a few people have so far volunteered to take the vaccines due to several factors.
Some of the reasons for the slow pace of vaccinations include lack of information about the vaccination programme, scepticism about the safety of the vaccines and misinformation.
The government says it wants to vaccinate 60 percent of the population or 10 million people by the end of the year to reach herd immunity.
As of 27 April, 370,676 Zimbabweans had received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine while 63,263 had received the second dose.
Tinashe Gede, an Oxford University trained immunologist and a member of the Royal College of Physicians in England, warned that achieving the targets could prove to be a tall order if the number of people taking the vaccines does not increase significantly.
“As we speak in Zimbabwe our total cumulative vaccination rate is over 200,000 people who have been vaccinated at least single dose,” Gede said.
“The population percentage that has received both doses is still 0,2% of the population and our target number is at least 65-70%.
“That number belongs to this thing we call herd immunity. So we are still early in the roll out programme.
“I think what the government tried to do was to figure out who stands to benefit the most from early vaccination based on their epidemiologic exposure and their line of work and being very frail.
“So there has been a phased introduction of the Covid-19 vaccines.”
He added: “As we speak I think the emphasis has been that anybody, who is willing to get vaccinated should not be denied a vaccine if they turn up.
“So way more people are now able to access the vaccine.”
The first phase of the vaccination programme targeted frontline workers such as those in the health sector, immigration department and security forces.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last month launched the second phase of the vaccination programme, which is open to everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
The government also set a target to vaccinate the entire city of Victoria Falls to allow for the reopening of the tourism industry and is also planning for the same with all border towns.
Gede said for the country to reach its vaccination targets, there was need to be more aggressive.
“To give you a sense of how well or bad we are doing, when the national programme started on the 18th of February, we estimated that if you are going to vaccinate nine million people, which is about 60% of the population, by say December, you would need to be giving about 75,000 doses of vaccines per day and if you are going at 20,000 doses a day, like we are doing right now, it would probably take us about five years to have everybody in the 60% proposed figure to be vaccinated,” he said.
“So clearly we need to scale up our vaccination efforts both in terms of people’s awareness of what they are and ability to administer the vaccines to those who are willing.
“Those are the operational challenges we hope we hope will overcome.”