Joseph Madzimure and Rumbidzayi Zinyuke
A second plane carrying Sinopharm vaccines, this time 344 000 doses, is expected in Harare at around 8am this morning with health authorities working out how to accelerate the national vaccination programme as stocks build up.
The chartered Air Zimbabwe flight landed in Beijing yesterday to collect the shipment of the second Chinese donation of 200 000 doses plus the first 144 000 doses of Zimbabwe’s initial commercial orders of 1,2 million doses with Sinopharm.
With cargo space still available on the same plane, Air Zimbabwe agreed to ship another 100 000 doses most of the way to Namibia, where they will be used to kickstart that country’s national vaccination programme.
The plane carries other medical supplies, in particular the required quantity of single-use syringes for the orders, Deputy Chinese Ambassador Mr Zhao Baogang said yesterday.
The first planeload, another Air Zimbabwe charter, landed almost exactly four weeks ago on February 15, with the first gift of 200 000 doses allowing the national vaccination programme to be launched three days later and getting into its stride across the districts on Monday February 22.
Next week those initial groups of vaccinated Zimbabweans start getting their second dose, there being a four-week gap between the two jabs.
According to medical information on the internet, Sinopharm followed a very traditional route to create a vaccine, that is
one built around inactive virus particles. This is how polio, hepatitis A and rabies vaccines that have saved so many lives were made. With these sorts of vaccines the body uses two methods of creating an immune response to the disease.
The huge advantage the vaccines have is that the risk of an adverse response is negligible, since there is nothing living as in the nRNA live vaccines.
The effectiveness of the vaccine has been measured at around 79 to just over 80 percent as statistics firm up with millions of people now vaccinated with Sinopharm.
None of the vaccines so far developed are much closer to 100 percent, which is one reason why everybody requires two doses.
The dead Sinopharm vaccine can be stored in normal refrigerators and cold-rooms at around 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celcius, roughly the temperature of a good cold beer, rather than the -70 degrees some vaccines need.
This means it is relatively easy to get the vaccines into remote districts and store them there using normal cold chain facilities already in place for other vaccines.
The live vaccine that is now causing concern in parts of the European Union is a totally different type of product developed through a completely different, and more complex process. Generally speaking, so long as the dead vaccine can be produced and it works, and at 80 percent effectiveness the Sinopharm one does, it has been favoured in past vaccine research, at least as the starter vaccine for a new virus, because of its basic guaranteed safety.
The total shipment so far of 544 000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine is enough for 272 000 Zimbabweans.
Vaccine supply chains around the world are tight, with producer countries tending to give themselves higher priority. China has been willing to share its daily production of vaccines, although with 1,4 billion people it has the largest single national order on the planet.
The Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe has mentioned that both the gifts, now totalling 400 000 doses, and the permission to start releasing commercial orders had to come from the top, President Xi Jinping.
Besides the second donation of 200 000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, Zimbabwe is also expecting to receive a donation of 75 000 doses of the inactivated Covaxin from India, and another donation of 20 000 doses of Sputnik-V vaccine from Russia.
At the same time delivery timetables are now being hammered out for how African countries will be accessing commercial supplies of other vaccines under schemes being run by the African Union and the World Health Organisation.
Treasury has set aside US$100 million for the procurement of the vaccines that is expected to cater for 10 million people.
Yesterday President Mnangagwa made another appeal to Zimbabweans to get vaccinated as their groups are called in under the phased national programme, stressing again that the vaccinations in Zimbabwe will be free and that all vaccines have to be approved in advance by the health authorities to ensure safety.
Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Guo Shaochun confirmed yesterday that the chartered flight was leaving China with the shipment and added his voice to all the advice being given.
“Let’s keep the momentum in the vaccination programme and keep more Zimbabweans safe. In the face of the pandemic, act with determination and speed is the key,” he said.
Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro last week said the second stage would include people with serious medical conditions and those over 60 after which the education sector workers and others with medium risk would come in.
However, following the reopening of industry and the schools, he said, the Government was deliberating how the phased vaccination exercise could be tweaked.
“We are discussing if we can include teachers in the next phase of vaccinations but as you know, the whole country has opened up and everyone will need the vaccine. Our concern is to make sure that everyone is safe,” he said.