Covid Stricken Zimbabwe Rejects Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Donation

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By Mary Taruvinga

ZIMBABWE’S government has turned down a donation of three million doses from the African Union (AU) of the highly potent single dose Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine citing lack of storage facilities.

This comes at a time there is a spike in Covid-19 infections with the country having recorded over 1 000 new cases Saturday alone.

Finance Ministry permanent secretary George Guvamatanga has given as an excuse, the lack of preparedness on storage requirements.

In a letter of rejection to the African Export-Import Bank, seen by Sunday, Guvamatanga also expressed government’s reservations about the vaccine’s possible side effects.

“The government of Zimbabwe notes that there is an allocation of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines for August 2021. However, I wish to advise that the government of Zimbabwe is not yet ready to participate in the August allocation as measures are still being put in place to establish the cold chain management framework for the vaccines, as well as on management of the anticipated adverse effects of the vaccines following inoculation,” Guvamatanga wrote.

He added: “Therefore, we will advise of our readiness to receive the vaccines once our internal processes have been conducted, hopefully in time for next allocation. I wish to restate the government of Zimbabwe’s commitment to participate in Africa Union Covid-19 vaccination programme which the bank is supporting.”

Clinical trials have shown that a single dose of the vaccine had an efficacy rate of 72% in the United States, and a lower efficacy in countries where more contagious variants are widespread.

Zimbabwe is currently battling to contain the rapidly spreading Delta variant and other highly prevalent coronavirus viral variants .

The vaccine has been authorised for emergency use by the European Union, the United States and other countries.

Janssen Pharmaceutica, a Belgium-based subsidiary of American company Johnson & Johnson, developed the vaccine in collaboration with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre.

The AU set up the deal, in which the African Export-Import Bank would pay for 220 million doses of vaccines to be distributed equitably among member states.

Zimbabwe was to receive three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that were produced in Britain.

The country is currently using China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines both from China, as well as Sputnik V from Russia and India’s AstraZeneca.

There has been high demand for Covid-19 vaccines in the country of late amid reports of shortages.

Most health facilities have been offering second jabs only, leaving those intending to get inoculated for the first time stranded.

However, Health Ministry spokesperson, Donald Mujiri recently told that there had never been shortages in the country, but the inoculation process was being frustrated by logistical issues.

Some private health facilities are offering the jabs at a price of US$40 for locals and US$70 for tourists, which is beyond the affordability of most Zimbabweans.

Zimbabwe has so far recorded a total of 1 860 Covid-19 deaths and 53 665 cases since the pandemic was first reported in the country in March last year.

As the cases spike, the government last week introduced Level Four lockdown restrictions, and suspended the reopening of schools, and mass gatherings among other measures.