MEDICAL professionals yesterday said they still had not been trained on how to administer the COVID-19 vaccines despite the country expecting its first batch today, a consignment of 200 000 doses of the Sinopharm inoculation donated by China.
The government also procured another 600 000 doses of the same vaccine, but the second lot is expected in the country early next month.
Authorities yesterday said when the vaccine arrives in the country, it would be subjected to 48-hour verification by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) before distribution, with medical professionals among the first beneficiaries.
But the president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina), Enock Dongo said they were never informed nor were they consulted about the vaccines to be brought into the country.
He said nurses still did not know the type of vaccine that would be dispatched to the vaccination centres, adding that they were also not trained on how to administer the jab, or made aware of possible side effects.
“Generally nurses are not aware of it, and none have yet been formally trained to administer it even though there is a specific department to do that,” Dongo said.
“This is wrong because there is a huge information gap. How then are we expected to administer the vaccine to the public, if we are unable to tell them whether there will be any side effects or not?”
Dongo said the government should have consulted stakeholders first, before the rollout exercise, as well as widely inform the nation about the programme.
“We as frontline workers and nurses particularly, are ill-prepared. We have not received training to be able to also pass on the information to our clients. There is need for the government to ensure that the district centres are well capacitated to store the vaccines,” Dongo said.
He said health workers would be forced to take the vaccine simply because there was no other option to keep them safe.
“We tried to get the government to de-congest hospitals for our safety, and also to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) but it did not work. So our hopes were pinned on the vaccine, but we do not know what it is,” Dongo said.
Executive president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe, Johannes Marisa expressed doubt that the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) would manage to complete the verification exercise for the Chinese drug from Sinopharm within 48 hours.
“We would have been more comfortable if the timeline was longer. The first 200 000 doses are a donation from China. The Chinese vaccine, like the Russian Sputnik vaccine, is a vector vaccine. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are MRNA vaccines, which means that they need very low storage temperatures of up to -70 degrees Celsius,” Marisa said.
“The government was left with no options except to look for vaccines that are feasible in terms of storage and distribution, considering the fact that we need to maintain the cold chain. AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, and Johnson & Johnson need storage temperatures of between 2 degrees to 8 degrees, which can be achieved even in remote areas. So I think the storage and transportation logistics pushed our government to hastily acquire these vector vaccines,” he said.
While reports suggest that the Sinopharm drug has not been tested in Africa south of the Sahara, it is believed to be working well in Morocco and other Asian countries such as Pakistan, Turkey and the Americas.
Last week, deputy Health minister John Mangwiro, said the ministry was training its staff for the eventual vaccine rollout. The vaccine requires to be kept within temperatures of about 2 – 8 degrees Celsius, and Zimbabwe has said it has adequate cold chain facilities to store the vaccines in order to begin the inoculation programme.
The government has already listed health workers, security forces, civil servants and legislators as the priority groups in the immunisation roll out.
Each person requires two shots of the jab, and China’s donated vaccines will inoculate around 100 000 people.
Zimbabwe reportedly has about 20 000 health workers, including doctors and nurses.
A statement released last week by the government said the drugs would be taken to the national vaccination centres, provincial centres, district centres, clinics and hospitals.
South Africa, a fortnight ago took delivery of one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India.
However, health experts in that country warned that the vaccine might not work effectively against the highly contagious variant that is prevalent in SA and likely driving the surge in new infections in Zimbabwe.
This has resulted in officials in that country announcing that they intended to put the mass vaccination programme – the largest in Africa so far, on hold before it even began.
Meanwhile, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general, Raymond Majongwe said although they were not consulted about the vaccine, individual members within the teaching profession had the right to make their own decisions on taking the vaccine.
“We are going to engage the general membership on the way forward. It’s about people’s private wellness and health, and so we can’t impose it without guidance from our members,” Majongwe said.
ZIMTA secretary-general, Goodwill Taderera said its individual members should decide on whether to take the vaccine, adding that their only problem would be if teachers were used as guinea pigs.
“We believe that this intervention is necessary and important. If at all our members participate, it must be at a personal level. Zimta believes that it would not want to frog march its teachers to get vaccinated. What is important for our government is to take all the necessary steps that whenever the drug is administered, it is safe to its citizens,” Taderera said.
Government plans to inoculate approximately 10 million citizens to achieve head immunity. As of Saturday, Zimbabwe had reported 35 104 infections and 1 398 deaths.