VICE-PRESIDENT and Health and Child Care minister Constantino Chiwenga has said government will soon rope in soldiers to speed up the second phase of the COVID-19 mass vaccination programme.
Government is targeting to vaccinate 60% of the country’s population before the end of the year as it seeks to expand the inoculation programme beyond frontline workers during the second phase.
So far, there has been a very low uptake of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, with frontline workers, particularly nurses, questioning the efficacy of the vaccine.
Addressing journalists soon after receiving his second jab in Harare on Thursday, Chiwenga said government was engaging army personnel together with retired health workers to speed up the vaccination and hedge the population against the looming third wave.
The former Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces was the first Zimbabwean to be inoculated during the first phase which started last month.
“We are bringing in army medical personnel, local authorities and retired health workers to speed up vaccination across the country to achieve herd immunity,” Chiwenga said.
“This is a massive rollout and we have not had such in years, hence it is important that we train health workers, educate the nation about the importance of vaccination.”
He urged sceptical citizens to get vaccinated so that the country achieves its targeted 60% herd immunity and returns to normalcy.
“Today (Thursday), my vaccination was just a matter of seconds and I was done. This improved speed is commendable and this will help us reach our targets. We have to do it faster and have the manpower to do it,” he said.
Zimbabwe has so far recorded 36 611 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 34 226 recoveries and 1 509 deaths.
The southern African nation launched its vaccination programme last month after receiving a donation of 200 00 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China.
On Tuesday, another donation of 200 00 doses of the vaccine arrived in the country together with an additional 200 000 doses of another Chinese-made Sinovac drug, procured by government to target education, religious sectors and people with underlying conditions.
The rest of the population will be catered for in the third phase.
The COVID-19 vaccination programme is now in the second phase, with those who received their first jabs last month in the process of receiving their second one, while teachers have also started being vaccinated.
However, the public has been sceptical about being vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine because of lack of information on its efficacy and the accompanying side effects.
On February 16, Chiwenga told Parliament that government planned to vaccinate about 54 000 health workers and an unspecified number of customs, immigration and extension workers in the initial stage of the programme within 10 days, but only 40 000 have been vaccinated to date.
However, Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe, Gu Shaochun, has defended the Sinopharm vaccine produced by the Asian giant, saying it is safe amid indications that the rollout is floundering due to public scepticism.