Zimbabwe will only procure Covid-19 vaccines that it has capacity to store under the existing cold chain infrastructure as it will be less expensive and make the vaccination process more effective, Health and Child Care Minister Dr John Mangwiro has said.
Speaking at the launch of the private sector Covid-19 vaccination programme on Thursday, Dr Mangwiro said all vaccines being used in the country currently were stored between 2 and 8 degree Celcius, which was the standard fridge temperature for other vaccines already being deployed.
"As a country we have always been vaccinating and this is not a new thing. The vaccines we are using here in Zimbabwe are the similar to the ones we have always been using to vaccinate against Polio, Diphtheria and Tuberculosis," he said.
Zimbabwe has approved the use of the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines from China, Covaxin from India as well as Sputnik V from Russia. All four are inactivated vaccines and can be stored at normal fridge temperatures.
Vaccines such the Pfizer, Morderna, were however developed using the Messenger RNA technology which teaches the cells to make protein that triggers an immune response to produce antibodies inside the body and protect against infection. The vaccines are not suitable for hot climatic conditions and need to be stored at -70 degrees Celcius.
Dr Mangwiro said the country had no capacity to manufacture refrigerators that can reach those temperatures.
"We do not have a way of storing vaccines such as those. Even if we were to ask industry to start manufacturing fridges that can cool to that temperature, it would take time and we would have all succumbed to Covid 19 by then. The best we can do in Zimbabwe is minus 30 degrees. If we take the one stored at minus 75 degrees, the minute it gets to the airport it becomes useless for us. So when we make the decision of which vaccines to take we consider that We sat down as doctors, experts in universities and the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe and agreed on the vaccines to use," he said.
Dr Mangwiro also took time to explain why the country was not using the Johnson and Johnson vaccine yet.
He said only companies that registered their vaccines with the MCAZ were approved for use in the country and Johnson and Johnson had not done that.
"We do not force anyone to come and register for their vaccines to be used in the country. All vaccines are registered through the MCAZ which has scientists who then make research into the vaccine and before they are approved. The other vaccines we are now using were voluntarily registered. The Ministry of Finance had planned to buy 5 million vaccines from Johnson and Johnson had the company registered," he said.
He said Government only focused on the scientific evidence of the efficacy of a vaccine, not its name or its country of origin when approving vaccines for use in the country.