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Zimbabwe mulls mandatory COVID-19 vaccination





PRESIDENTIAL spokesperson George Charamba says Zimbabwe could consider mandatory inoculation against COVID-19 following resistance from some sections of the population.

Zimbabwe rolled out the voluntary vaccination programme throughout the country this week, with health workers and other frontline workers given the first priority.

Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga last Thursday became the first Zimbabwean to be inoculated with the Chinese-donated Sinopharm vaccine.

The southern African country last Monday received 200 000 doses of the vaccine and Charamba yesterday said the Asian giant had doubled its donation to 400 000 doses.

According to Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, Zimbabwe expects to receive another 600 000 doses of the same vaccine early next month purchased by government.

Government said it had planned to buy up to 1,8 million doses of the Chinese vaccine. However, there has been a low turn-out by health workers at most health centres throughout the country, with some saying they were unsure of the efficacy of the donated vaccine.

Charamba posted on his @Jamwanda2 Twitter handle that if persuasion failed on voluntary vaccination, then government, which has maintained that the programme would be voluntary, according to the Public Health Act, would force people to be vaccinated.

"Generally, government takes the view of persuasion as a weapon of first instance. Only when that fails does it ratchet up pressure through coercion, especially where minors are involved. You can't condemn an age that can't decide to die or take hazards of dying," Charamba tweeted on Tuesday.

Charamba could not be reached for comment yesterday to clarify his remarks. But human rights doctors said government risked contravening section 52 the Constitution on health rights if it orders compulsory vaccination.

They said citizens lacked adequate information to make informed decisions on whether to be vaccinated or not.

Responding to Charamba, a human rights doctor, Shingai Feresu, said an order for compulsory vaccination was a violation of human rights.

"Let me be clear here," he tweeted yesterday.

"I don't see the rationale of compulsory vaccination. As a human rights advocate, this would be a violation of the highest degree. Only when the situation is dire (do) you invoke the Public Health Act. With deaths around 10 per day for a population of 15 million, you can't invoke it."

Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZiNA) president Enock Dongo said the general assessment showed that there was low uptake of the vaccine among nurses throughout the country as at yesterday.

"Health workers lack the necessary information," he said.

"There are several conspiracy theories against vaccines on social media and health workers are also consumers of that information, hence factual information was essential to dismiss misleading information.

"Government failed to avail the necessary information to the frontline workers and the public prior the commencement of the inoculation process. Government does not want to engage workers' representatives who play an important role in positive influence on policy implementation."

Health workers were only trained on how to administer the drug when it was already in the country.

Government has revealed it is also expecting delivery of additional vaccines from Russia (Sputnik V), British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and China (Sinovac), but has not fully explained to the population on what motivated its decisions, with investigations by our sister paper The Standard revealing that the broke Zimbabwe could have been lured into shady COVID-19 vaccination deals with manufacturers who were offering free doses as bait.

Itai Rusike, executive director for the Community Working Group on Health, said if government was considering mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for frontline workers, the decision should be guided by the Public Health Act.

Chapter 15:17 of the Public Health Act provides for compulsory immunisation of children and incapacitated persons where there are compelling reasons of public health.

"What the government of Zimbabwe should do is to provide the frontline health workers and the people of Zimbabwe the options to choose the vaccine brands of their choice instead of foisting the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine to everyone," Rusike said.

"According to the Public Health Act, the government has a duty to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms. The State, every person, including jurist persons, every institution and agency of the government at every level must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights and freedoms."

Zimbabwe Senior Hospital Doctors Association president Shingai Nyaguse, however, said the turnout of health personnel for vaccination was "good", considering that it was just the beginning of the programme.

Days before the Chinese vaccine arrived into the country, Health ministry acting permanent secretary Robert Mudyirandima was quoted as saying that during the rollout, tests would be done to measure the vaccines' effectiveness on current mutations, variants and strains.

This forced human rights lawyers to petition government demanding that Zimbabweans should not be used as guinea pigs.

In a letter to Mnangagwa dated February 16, Mbidzo, Muchadehama and Makoni Legal Practitioners said they were worried that the bodily or psychological integrity of individuals, which includes the right not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments, was being violated.

But government has since distanced itself from Mudyirandima's utterances.

"We act on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Child Care and wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated February 16, 2021 which was copied to us," Fortune Chimbaru, director for civil division in the Health ministry, said in a statement yesterday.

"Our instruction so far is that the alleged statement by the acting permanent secretary of Health does not reflect the official government position and is not accurate pronouncement of the development process of the said vaccine.

"The correct and official procurements relating to the vaccine were made by the (Health) minister (Chiwenga), the deputy minister (John Mangwiro) and the ambassador of the People's Republic of China."

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka
Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

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