President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government has announced it is starting to vaccinate Zimbabwe’s teenagers over the age of 16 against COVID-19, which has claimed nearly 5,000 lives and infected 13,000 in the country. Public health experts welcome the move.
Zimbabwe’s acting Health and Child Care Minister Amon Murwira told journalists that the country had so far managed to vaccinate 38% of the population.
He then announced the recommendation regarding those over the age of 16.
“Based on the available scientific data in line with the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe guide, the specialist pediatricians have recommended a vaccination of the 16 to 17 years age group with the Sinovac COVID19 vaccine," said Murwira.
"The protocol of the younger age groups is still under consideration. The ministry wishes to advise the public that COVID19 vaccination of the 16 to 17 years age groups has been approved. The government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Health and Childcare is determined that Zimbabwe achieves herd immunity by end December 2021,” he added.
Dr. Norman Matara, the head of Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights, is hopeful the move would increase the number of people getting vaccinated and will push the country further to achieving head immunity.
“This is a welcome move, but we just hope that the vaccine will continue to be voluntary and that these teenagers will not be mandated to get vaccines in schools and colleges. But people should just continue to voluntarily get the vaccines,” he said.
Itai Rusike, head of nonprofit Community Working Group on Health in Zimbabwe, commended the government for the announcement as it helps the country reach its target of vaccinating at least 10 million Zimbabweans — or 60% of the population — by the end of the year.
“This is important in order to prevent the teenagers from COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and even death, especially from the looming threat of the new delta variant. It is also important that the school health coordinators are equipped with the necessary COVID-19 vaccine literacy so that they can then assist in educating the students, the teachers and support staff on the importance of getting vaccinated. It is also important that the community leaders should play a critical role in being our COVID-19 champions and ambassadors so that they can encourage the parents and the children within their communities to embrace the vaccines,” said Rusike.
Zimbabwe has fully inoculated just above 2.6 million people since February when it began its vaccination program to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.