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EDITORIAL COMMENT : Fair, proper vaccine programme rolling out

A clear three-fold national policy on vaccinations against Covid19 was set by President Mnangagwa last week ensuring need and fairness drive the process, along with the warning that Zimbabweans have to continue observing preventative guidelines despite the roll-out of the vaccination programme.

The three critical legs of the vaccination programme are: free vaccinations so need, rather than wealth, will determine your order in the queue; an initial target of at least 60 percent of the population, so all the most vulnerable are vaccinated and a degree of herd immunity is generated; and no compulsory vaccinations.

President Mnangagwa made it clear that all vaccinations would be free.

The Government has already mobilised US$100 million and has made it clear that the private sector is more than welcome to top up this sum although all contributions, including vaccine gifts from development partners and under global aid programmes, will go into the same pool.

This ensures that as vaccines arrive, those who need them the most get them first.

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The Government has set the priorities, basically the same as in most countries, with the first batches of vaccine going to frontline workers dealing with Covid-19, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

The frontline workers get their place at the head of the queue because they have easily the highest risk of infection, dealing with sick people.

Already, scores have been infected and, regardless of how careful you are, the chances are almost certain that a frontline worker will sooner or later become infected if they are not first vaccinated.

The elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are next in line because of the far higher risk of death if they are infected.

Death rates are very low for fit young people, and even fit middle-aged people, but start rising rapidly as you get older.

Those with diabetes, hypertension, heart problems and other chronic illnesses are also far more likely than the fit to suffer severe symptoms from Covid-19 and have far higher death rates.

The general tendency for older people to be more likely to have an underlying medical condition doubles their vulnerability.

By the time those most at risk of infection and those with highest death rates have been vaccinated, the Government will have set the order of vaccination for the next cohorts of the population, no doubt using the same criteria of likelihood of infection and likelihood of fatal complications.

President Mnangagwa

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In this, the authorities will be governed by medical experts.

Because all vaccinations will be free, the limited supplies in the early months of vaccine delivery will all go to those who need them most.

Poor people cannot be excluded and the rich cannot jump the queue.

The sole criterion will be your place in the queue set by fair criteria, not the thickness of your wallet nor your connections nor how loud you shout.

The initial target of 60 percent of the population for vaccination will cover all those in the groups most vulnerable to infection or severe complications and start making a serious dent among those with lower priorities.

It will also start creating herd immunity.

This can be misunderstood, but basically it means that those who are not immune will meet fewer and fewer people who might be infected, and that those who are infected will tend to meet more and more people who are immune.

All vaccination programmes are built around this concept, even when there is universal vaccination against a particular disease, since not all vaccinations “take”. But if no one missing immunity ever meets an infected person then this does not matter.

The final leg of the policy is no compulsory vaccination.

There has been a lot of uninformed fear of vaccination against Covid-19, and a lot of drivel put out by the ignorant on social media.

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Regrettably “anti-vaxxers”, to use the modern slang term, can make a lot of noise and despite their lack of medical qualifications and expertise are listened to.

The fact that they tend to congregate in right-wing conspiracy groups and among neo-nazi racists should make people think.

In any case, as President Mnangagwa and his responsible ministers have made clear, Zimbabwe will only be using vaccines approved by the World Health Organisation, will be checking that the supply chain from factory to Zimbabwean administering nurse is secure, and will be monitoring all who are vaccinated.

An interesting point is that all the vaccines we will be using have already been administered to tens of millions of people in the countries where they are made. Indeed, all our initial doses, from the Sinopharm batches from China onwards, will be special diversions from national programmes in those countries of manufacture as part of the corporate and global responsibility programmes urged by the WHO to ensure international fairness.

However, the 60 percent are not all going to be vaccinated next week and even when they are in many months’ time, there may be new strains plus those missed.

We still have a long haul ahead of us. Sober and level-headed experts around the world predict that Covid-19 will be around at least until the end of next year, and that is the most optimistic prediction, and probably longer.

Global and national vaccination programmes will be a major tool in beating back the virus, and reducing the severity of waves of infection, but have to be backed in the short and medium term by the full force of all the preventative measures that have now become universal.

This is why President Mnangagwa was so insistent that Zimbabweans continue to wear masks, observe social distancing, keep themselves clean and check temperatures.

In just over a week the level four lockdown that has already done so much to beat back the severe second wave of infection comes up for review again.

There is a good chance that a phased lowering of national lockdown levels can safely be implemented to get more people back to work, but many lockdown provisions, particularly on social gatherings, will have to remain and for the foreseeable future we are all going to have to observe the precautions and these will have to continue being enforced.

A growing number of vaccinated Zimbabweans will help, but all of us, including the vaccinated, cannot lower our guard.

HERALD