HARARE, ZIMBABWE — The World Health Organization says Africa’s COVID-19 vaccinations rose by 15% between January and February, as several countries embarked on mass inoculation drives to expand coverage and protect populations from the pandemic.
Zimbabwe’s government says it is launching a "national vaccination blitz" targeting those who have not yet been vaccinated in a country where resistance to the shots has been an issue since the program started last year. The drive come amid government concern over rising COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a statement that the increase in COVID-19 vaccinations on the continent was driven mainly by campaigns in populous countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria.
Dr. Thierno Balde, the WHO Africa regional COVID-19 incident manager, he says the continent must remain vigilant.
“We have seen what is happening around, in China, and the risk of also having new imitations, new variants still possible. We really need to continue to safeguard our population by taking the vaccine by not relaxing totally. The situation might change. So we really need to continue adapting some of these social measures and also to get vaccination,” Balde said.
The WHO said to boost African COVID-19 vaccine acceptance, it and other organizations were supporting mass vaccination drives in at least 10 priority countries to reach 100 million people by the end of next month.
Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu, Zimbabwe’s acting information minister, said his country would not be left behind.
“Regarding the vaccination program, as of 15 March, 2022, a total of 159,628 third doses have been administered to date. The national vaccination blitz campaign will kick off on Monday, 21 March, 2022, and [the] government is urging those that have not yet been vaccinated to take advantage of this exercise to do so,” Ndlovu said.
A number of Zimbabweans have refused vaccination, saying they do not trust the mainly donated Chinese-made Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines. The country has lately recorded a rise in new infections – now cumulatively at 244,012 with 5,418 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the global outbreak.
Dr. Cleophas Chimbetete, president of Zimbabwe College of Public Health Physicians, attributes that to the recent lifting of restrictive measures, such as lockdowns. He says, however, it is not time to panic, just to enforce WHO protocols, such masking and social distancing.
“After relaxing measures, it is expected that cases will slightly go up. But I also think that it is too early to make any meaningful conclusions, I think it is just an opportunity for us to strengthen our preventative measures and continue highlighting to the rest of the population that COVID is still with us. The good news, though, is that severe cases have not gone up. What we need to do is to continue to get vaccinated and what is important is that the government should – as it is doing – is monitor these numbers. There is no cause for alarm or cause for us to introduce new measures,” Chimbetete said.
Zimbabwe had a target of vaccinating at least 10 million people by the end of last year, a figure that some say was difficult to reach given the scarcity of resources and hesitance. It has yet to announce when it plans to achieve herd immunity.