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Low Acceptance of COVID-19 Vaccine Worrying Zimbabwean Doctors

A health official at Wilkins Hospital in Harare, Zimbabwe, prepares to inoculate with Sinopharm vaccine, March 11, 2021. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
A health official at Wilkins Hospital in Harare, Zimbabwe, prepares to inoculate with Sinopharm vaccine, March 11, 2021. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Doctors in Zimbabwe say they are worried about the slow pace of the country's COVID-19 vaccination program for front line workers.

Health workers trickle in to Wilkins Hospital, the country’s main COVID-19 vaccination center, to get the shots that will protect them from the deadly disease.

But the statistics are not that encouraging.

As of Thursday, fewer than 36,000 people had received shots in the first phase of Zimbabwe’s campaign to vaccinate front line workers like doctors and nurses.

Zimbabwe received a donation of 200,000 vaccine doses from the Chinese company Sinopharm in February. But Dr. Johannes Marisa said some health workers are skeptical of the Sinopharm vaccine, which is still in the final stages of testing.

“They are concerned that they may develop some unknown side effects as the drug is in stage three of the clinical trials. So that is one thing that is of great concerns. The second thing which people are complaining about is lack of health education. There hasn’t been much of education in terms of the benefits, in terms of the side effects,” he said.

Some health workers who hesitated at first have changed their minds. They are getting inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine, which Zimbabwe's government says has an efficacy rate of between 76 and 86%.

Trevor Mushowe is a pharmacist who got vaccinated Thursday.

“I decided to come to today and take a shot and do my part to protect myself and to protect other people from contracting and spreading of the COVID-19 virus,” said Mushowe.

Still, a survey by Zimbabwe’s College of Public Health Physicians says 49% of Zimbabweans do not trust that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government will provide them with a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.

Dr. Norman Matara from Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights said that partly explains the low acceptance of the Sinopharm vaccine by health workers.

“We need the minister of health to have an effective communication department such that people are given information regarding this vaccine, about its safety, its effectiveness, and dispel all those myths and misconceptions which are surrounding this vaccine. Some people have chronic illnesses, some people are above 60 and there were pamphlets flying on social media saying such people cannot have vaccines," he said.

"We need those questions being addressed. We also need the government to rein in on some political or religious leaders who are publicly going against vaccinations. We cannot have people talking negative things about the vaccination when there is no scientific basis for that.”

Monica Mutsvangwa, Zimbabwe Information Minister told journalists this week that the vaccination program is “well on course” and the government expects to receive more vaccine doses from abroad.

“Progress has been registered in receiving the second donation of 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, 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,” she said.

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