Understanding the Covid-19 vaccine

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SUN REPORTER
AMBIA is currently experiencing a drop in hospital admissions of Covid-19 cases which may raise apathy to the planned Covid-19 vaccine initiative to be implemented.

It is important for the nation to abide by the World Health Organisation protocols as the global pandemic is being fought on different fronts.

Last month, the Minister of Health Dr Jonas Chanda said available scientific evidence shows overwhelmingly that vaccine deployment is key in bringing the Covid-19 pandemic under control.

The Health Minister stressed that Vaccine Programme will be done cautiously on a voluntary basis and in a phased manner and on Pilot basis.

This followed Cabinet’s approval and adoption of the acquisition, deployment and financing of Covid-19 Vaccines in the country as an additional pillar of the pandemic strategy.

“There will be no mandatory vaccination. The available scientific evidence shows overwhelmingly that vaccine deployment is key in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. Countries that have made progress in their vaccine roll-out have already shown significant reduction in transmission, severe illness and deaths reported,” the minister explained.

And Dr Chanda disclosed that the first Pillar of initial vaccines to be rolled out under the COVAX mechanism will be AstraZeneca and subsequently the Johnson and Johnson vaccine which will be free.

“COVAX will cover 20% (3,676,791) of the eligible adult over the age of 18 years (18,383,955) population. The remaining 26% (4,761,327) of the eligible population will be covered through Pillar 2 and 3 below.

The Second Pillar are vaccines that may be donated to the Country by other Governments and Cooperating Partners subject to approval of the Ministry of Health through ZAMRA, as long as they meet the criteria for efficacy and safety based on proven clinical trial , sustainability , source of manufacture and have been monitored to have been used safely in many countries. The Ministry of Health through Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA) will check efficacy and safety for all vaccines,” he said.

The Minister added that the Third Pillar will cover the rest of the eligible adult population who may not be covered under Pillar one and two through Government making available funds for vaccines, and also the participation of the Private sector, with the approval of the Ministry and ZAMRA.

Dr Chanda said his Ministry will be providing key insights on the COVID-19 vaccine deployment during the daily briefings as he rolls out the programme.

He hoped that with the vaccine deployment the country can attain “herd immunity” and thus control the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are grateful for the support of Zambia’s all-weather friend the United States government who have announced a commitment of an additional K36.75 million ($1.75 million) to provide technical assistance to Zambia’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign targeted at providing critical technical and logistical support to the Ministry of Health for planning, coordination and delivery of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for Zambians,” Dr Chanda said.

Dr Chanda said the Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC) converged on Friday and formulated the National Vaccine Deployment Plan to guide the rollout.

“The Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC) met on Friday 26th March 2021 to consider key aspects of the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Among the key issues discussed were consideration of the findings of the report from the Zambian Immunization Technical Advisory Group providing guidance on COVID-19 vaccines being considered for deployment.

“The ICC formally adopted the National Vaccine Deployment Plan to guide the roll out, including considerations for the cold chain, in line with Cabinet’s guidance on COVID-19 vaccinations which are critical to controlling the pandemic, slowing the emergence of new variants, and helping to boost the economy. Zambia has also successfully met all the requirements set by GAVI under the COVAX facility,” Dr Chanda said.

And in a quest to stop propaganda and misinformation around the vaccine, the ministry is working towards finalising the Communication Strategy.

“The Ministry is working to finalize the Communication Strategy which will guide the nationwide communication activities to ensure citizens have accurate information about vaccines and the vaccination process to make informed decisions, as well as address frequently asked questions and dispel myths, misconceptions and conspiracy theories around the COVID-19 vaccines,” he said.

Dr Chanda also announced that the Ministry in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education are undertaking close scrutiny of institutions of higher learning so as to ensure students adhere to public health guidelines.

The Minister further disclosed that the Ministry of Health and the Electoral Commission of Zambia are working together to ensure the safety of political players and the public in view of the pandemic and the looming August elections.

Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary for Technical Services Kennedy Malama says government will only cover 20 percent of the 8.4 million citizens who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in the country.

Dr Malama noted that among the 8.4 million Zambians to be vaccinated against the viral infection include the elderly, people with underlying health complications and those that work in high risk areas.

He said 13 vaccines that have been proven to be effective will be available, noting that only COVAX and Astra Zeneca will be administered to citizens by government.

The Permanent Secretary stated that other approved vaccines out of the 13 will be administered to citizens through private partners that have shown interest.

“The country will remain open to other stakeholders that can help eligible citizens who may not be covered by the 20 percent,” he stated.

Dr Malama stressed that only vaccines whose efficacy and safety have been proven will be allowed adding that it can only be done through assessment by the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA) and other regulatory bodies.

“The vaccines have been proven to prevent illness by 80 percent and severe illness by 100 percent,” he said.

Dr Malama noted that COVID-19 has been strenuous on the government especially during the second wave between December last year and February this year.

And Dr Malama further noted that people are usually reluctant to accept new developments.

“They criticised the government when the Antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccines were introduced, but as scientists we will prove the efficacy of the vaccines using scientific evidence,” he said.

He stated that the Ministry of Health will continue to monitor happenings in other countries.

“It is likely that we will be hit by the third wave which will be more ferocious and we are taking these steps to prevent the deadly variance,” he said.

He stated that government will continue to strengthen efforts in the fight against coronavirus pandemic and that 200 health workers will be employed at the COVID-19 health centres in the country.

“This is out of a total of 395 that are set to be employed by the Ministry of Health this year,” he said.

He also noted that the Ministry will not neglect other diseases that affect citizens.

Meanwhile, a cross section of citizens in Lusaka have mixed feeling over the COVID-19 vaccines.

Veronica Bwalya, a vendor in the Central Business District, who bases her opinion from social media assertions, says that she will not accept or allow any member of her family to take the vaccine.

“We have been told that the vaccine is intended to wipe out the black people. I will not allow anyone in my family to be vaccinated,” Said Bwalya.

And Blessings Zulu says the vaccine will be good for the prevention of the disease saying more people may die if such an intervention is not taken.

About 88,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 and 1,200 have died from the viral disease since last year when it was first reported in the country.

Zambians must embrace the Covid-19 strategy to erdaicate the virus.

The global initiative led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) aims to start shipping nearly 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the continent in February, in what will be Africa’s largest ever mass vaccination campaign.

The roll-out of the AstraZeneca/Oxford AZD1222 vaccine is subject to the vaccine being listed for emergency use by WHO. The organization is currently reviewing the vaccine and the outcome of the review is expected soon.

“Africa has watched other regions start COVID-19 vaccination campaigns from the side-lines for too long. This planned roll-out is a critical first step to ensuring the continent gets equitable access to vaccines,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “We know no one will be safe until everyone is safe.”

The possibility of a third wave of Covid-19 infections is not in doubt and hence the need to scale up preventative measures.

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