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Zimbabwe, China Allay Sinopharm COVID-19 Vaccine Fears

A Zimbabwe health official transfers donated Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine from a plane from China into a government truck, at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, Feb. 15, 2021. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Zimbabwe received 200,000 doses Monday of China's Sinopharm vaccine, donated by Beijing to help halt the spread of COVID-19.

"This is a timely donation given the recent tragedies and ravages that visited our country through COVID-19 pandemic," said Zimbabwe's Vice President Constantino Chiwenga — who doubles as the country's health minister. "We receive this vaccine as a glimmer of hope to the nation that finally we may be on the verge of returning to some semblance of normalcy, that our people turn a new page.

"It has not been lost on us that in times of need China's response has been swift, resulting in this donation being the first vaccine to reach our country."

However, an official from Zimbabwe College of Public Health Physicians told VOA over the weekend that the Sinopharm vaccine was not effective against the South African variant of COVID-19, which has spread into Zimbabwe.

He hoped Zimbabwe would get vaccines quickly under the COVAX and the African Union facilities so that the country has other "known vaccines that have clear data."

On Monday, China's ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochun dismissed any doubts about the Sinopharm vaccine.

"I am not a scientist, so I do not make unprofessional comments. But I would like to say: the safety, the Chinese vaccine is already proven," Guo told VOA.

Dr. Elopy Nimele Sibanda, professor of immunology at the University of Zimbabwe's College of Health Sciences, is optimistic the Sinopharm vaccine will help Zimbabwe following the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in the country.

"Any vaccine is better than no vaccine," Sibanda said. "That's the bottom line. In terms of efficacy, we will only know once it has been used. We do not know until it has been tested in our own setting. We did not know about the Oxford vaccine and how effective it will be in South Africa until they started vaccinating people in South Africa. People will always have issues whether the vaccine works or doesn't work."

Zimbabwe's government said the Sinopharm vaccine has an efficacy rate of between 76 and 86 percent.

On Monday, acting Health Secretary Dr. Robert Mudyirandima said Zimbabwe will conduct trials of Sinopharm this week before starting a nationwide free and voluntary vaccination program.

Zimbabwe's government plans to immunize 60 percent of the country's estimated 14 million people, in hopes of achieving herd immunity.

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