President Mnangagwa has praised his deputy, who is also the Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Constantino Chiwenga, for volunteering to take the first jab when Zimbabwe launched the Covid-19 vaccination programme yesterday.
The Vice President turned up at Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare and took his first dose of the Sinopharm vaccine donated to Zimbabwe by China, allaying baseless pessimism around the inoculation process.
Despite assurances even from the World Health Organisation (WHO), naysayers in certain quarters were casting aspersions on safety of the vaccine but VP Chiwenga volunteered to lead the way by getting immunised.
This gesture went a long way in assuring health care workers, who will be among the first to be vaccinated.
Writing on micro-blogging site — Twitter — President Mnangagwa thanked his deputy for leading the way in assuring the safety of the process, signalling the start of the country’s largest mass vaccination programme which is targeting 10 million people.
“Thank you to Vice President and Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga for showing Zimbabwe that this vaccine is safe for all our people. This is a historic moment in our country’s fight against this virus,” wrote President Mnangagwa.
Speaking after receiving the jab, VP Chiwenga said the receding number of cases was heralding the end of the second wave but warned that Zimbabwe was not yet out of the woods and was now augmenting preventative measures with vaccines.
Active cases are now just over 2 000 falling from as high as more than 10 000 when infections peaked.
Experts and Government officials have, however, warned that cases are still high and any lapse can trigger a third wave of infections.
“The marked decline in new cases of Covid-19 is vividly heralding the end of the second wave of the pandemic. Despite the slump, the Government of Zimbabwe adopted a second line of defence to augment preventative measures to combat Covid-19. The second layer of defence is the procurement and roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines,” said VP Chiwenga.
He said local tests were done on the vaccine being administered in the country which showed that it had an efficacy rate of more than 79 percent and urged everyone to be immunised.
“My ministry has conducted all scientific processes to ascertain the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine which was confirmed to be 79 percent.
My presence here today, with some Ministry of Health officials, including my deputy, is to exhibit the Government’s confidence in the Sinopharm vaccine.
“I have received my Covid-19 vaccine together with my deputy minister and my staff, therefore I urge all Zimbabweans to be vaccinated at their nearest health centre.”
More Covid-19 vaccines were expected in the country until the required quantities were achieved in the shortest possible time.
VP Chiwenga said the vaccines would be taken to the provinces ahead of a nationwide vaccination programme starting on Monday.
The training programme for the provincial and district staff was completed while lower level staff would be trained over the weekend.
Sister Siboniso Mlilo, a nurse with over two decades of experience in health services, administered the first shot on VP Chiwenga.
She enrolled as a nursing student in 2000 and graduated in 2003 as a registered general nurse.
Sister Mlilo completed her training on administering Covid-19 vaccines this week and only knew moments prior that she would be the first nurse to administer the first dose.
She said the process was the same as administering any other vaccines she has been doing for years and encouraged everyone who can to be inoculated.
“By the grace of the Lord, I have not yet contracted the virus and after being vaccinated, my chances are now boosted and I will continue other preventative measures,” she said.
Chief coordinator of the National Response to the Covid-19 pandemic Dr Agnes Mahomva, clarified the issue of vaccines being amenable protection to certain variants.
She said because of their mutating nature, there was no vaccine which could protect against all variants, but urged everyone to be immunised since it boosted people’s immunity against the virus.
Sister Violet Badze, another nurse with 22 years of experience in the medical field, said she had never been relieved in her career like what she felt after being vaccinated.
“It is just a prick. I am not feeling anything different and I urge everyone to be vaccinated to boost their immunity. We are at the risk of this virus and after being vaccinated, we feel we have been protected,” she said.
Dr Simuka Zizhou who was also vaccinated yesterday, implored everyone to be vaccinated.
“You are better off getting the vaccine to boost your immunity,” he said.
Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme said he did not feel any change after getting the jab and promised to give daily updates to help people track if he had any challenges after the inoculation.
Some nurses who spoke to The Herald before being vaccinated said they were eagerly anticipating the jabs following VP Chiwenga’s lead.
“There was scepticism but the Vice President has given us confidence. It is always a challenge to volunteer for something new but now that such a high ranking official has been vaccinated in front of us, we will take the shots with confidence,” said a nurse.
Some journalists also received vaccines following calls to prioritise the media as one of the most vulnerable groups.
After getting her dose, ZBC TV’s Abigail Tembo said: “Journalists are frontline workers and need to be vaccinated.
“My job takes me everywhere and for the sake of everyone I interview, my co-workers and my family, I volunteered to be among the first people to get vaccinated so that on top of the masks, social distancing and sanitisation, I get maximum protection against the virus,” she said.
Ministry of Health and Child Care spokesperson Donald Mujiri said: “We have received a request from the Ministry of Information for journalists to be in the risk population group and they will be considered.”