By Runako Rukwere
Letwin Chikore appears exhausted as she stands in a snaking queue at the Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare.
Chikore is among hundreds of city residents, who braved the early morning chilly weather to join the queue to get the Covid-19 vaccine at the country’s largest referral hospital.
The snail pace at which the process is moving, however, is a major source of frustration for the residents who are eager to get vaccinated.
“I was here by 6:15am and I was on number 253 on the queue, but we are being told that those who had their names written down today will be inoculated on a later date,” Chikore said.
“I do not understand why it has to take that long for me to be vaccinated if the vaccines are available.”
Vaccination centres have been recording big turnouts since the third wave of the Covid-19 started hitting Zimbabwe hard sometime in June.
The country’s vaccination programme started on a slow pace in February because many people were reluctant to take the Chinese made vaccines due to concerns about their safety.
Over the past few weeks, however, perceptions have changed following an upsurge in Covid-19 new infections and deaths that are being attributed to the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Grant Murewanhema, an epidemiologist and public health physician, said the onset of the third wave had seen many people scrambling for the vaccines to protect themselves against infection.
But Murewanhema was worried that overcrowding at vaccination sites could result in a spike in new infections.
“This may lead to an accelerated spread of the virus, and as people from different suburbs/places gather in one place, the possibility of generating widespread community transmission of Covid-19 leading to a protracted wave is high,” he said.
“Public health stakeholders must urgently find ways of decentralising the vaccination programme to local clinics as a way of decongesting facilities and must also adopt efficient booking systems with limited numbers of people per day.”
Linos Dhire, head of public relations at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, said they were having difficulties in controlling queues at the vaccination site as people were not observing social distancing or wearing masks as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
“We have engaged the police to help us in controlling the queues to ensure that there is order,” Dhire said.
“We have come up with a system of managing the crowds by only taking a number we can vaccinate, and the remaining will be booked for the next day.”
At the time of the writing of this story, he said they were taking 1,000 people for both the first and the second dose per day.
Getting the Covid-19 vaccine has not been easy for Chikore as she claimed that she tried getting it in her neighbourhood for nearly a month before she decided to visit Parirenyatwa.
“I have gone to local clinics in Warren Park and Dzivarasekwa and was told that they were only inoculating the second dose,” she said.
Murewanhema said there was need to publicise vaccination sites to avoid a situation where people must travel long distances or flood centres such as Parirenyatwa.
Zimbabwe has set a target of vaccinating 60 percent of the population or 10 million people by the end of the year for the country to reach herd immunity.