Zimbabwe: Glimmer of Hope As Vaccination Rate Rises

A Zimbabwean receives a Covid-19 vaccine jab at Wilkins Hospital - Zimbabwe’s main vaccination center in Harare (file photo).
editorial

The dramatic increase in vaccination rates over the last two weeks, with last week being especially noteworthy with 294 314 doses administered between Sunday and Friday, 16,6 percent of the entire national programme, will as it continues and improves eventually bring Covid-19 under control in Zimbabwe.

But we have a long way still to go, hence the need to maintain and enforce the lockdown provisions for many more months, even when we manage to get on top of the third wave and allow some, but only some, relaxation in regulations and allow children to go back to school.

There is a faint glimmer of hope, and it is still too early to see if this is a real change or just a statistical anomaly, that the third wave may have peaked on Friday last week with the seven-day rolling average, which measures trends, decreasing marginally over the next two days. That is the first drop since the start of the second wave in the second week of last month.

But even if that is the case the death rate will continue rising, and it has already started setting new Zimbabwean records, since the people who die today were infected up to two weeks ago. So we can expect some further bad news.

But there is some hope as Mashonaland West, the epicentre of this third wave, continues to show roughly stable infection rates and is no longer the worst hit province. The three north-western districts of that province went under the enhanced level four lockdown a couple of weeks before the rest of the country so any improvement is likely to be seen there first.

But even if we are starting to score some successes from the enhanced lockdown, the actual rates are still very high and the need for the Government to keep up the enforcement pressure remains critical since with those rates any slackening would see another and worse explosion.

The Government, with its gazetting of a formal definition of intercity travel last week, is now tackling Harare Metropolitan province and trying to minimise unnecessary movement. While essential workers from Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe's third largest urban authority, will still be able to go to and from work in Harare, quite a lot of movement between the two major centres will be restricted.

This is important. Harare Metropolitan has been moving into the provincial lead as far as infections go, something that was always probable considering that it has both the largest provincial population and this population is squeezed into a small area. The move to regulate traffic is not because one authority has more sick people than the other, but rather to try and lessen the huge crowds who more back and forth across the metropolitan province each day.

The formal definition of intercity traffic was backed by a plea for everyone, especially in these huge urban areas, to think seriously before they do move around and to as far as possible stay at home.

The one part of the national enhancement of the level four lockdown that has been neglected by many employers is the requirement to have 60 percent of staff working from home.

While masking does now show far better levels of compliance, social distancing was not, and could not, be so strongly applied either in the workplaces or in the huge crowds we see in the streets, especially in the early morning and afternoon peak periods.

From what we see in the evenings and at night, there is an obvious need to enforce the curfew more tightly.

A lot of those out in public or driving around after the curfew are highly unlikely to be essential workers on night shift and have almost certainly been indulging in risky social behaviour.

The surge in such traffic at weekends is further evidence that social activity rather than a sudden doubling of the Saturday night shift in essential services is the driver for being out after curfew.

The recent dramatic increase in vaccination rates, after a rather dry period in the first three weeks of last month, appears to be the result of a huge improvement in supply, backed last week by a major effort to improve the efficiency and staffing levels of the vaccination teams and their logistics.

Our principle vaccine suppliers, two Chinese companies, have obviously increased our ration, allowing us to order and buy more doses, and deserve our thanks considering the demands that they face from many other customers including their own national health authorities.

And obviously our own procurement authorities, led by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, have ironed out any problems our end.

The Government as a whole, and especially the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare as the lead implementing agency, have taken advantage of that boost in supplies to have more teams in the field and each team with more doses.

That was backed with procedural changes to allow those who queue to be jabbed that same day, despite the longer working hours this involves for health staff.

Fairly obviously the Health Ministry has also upgraded its own logistics, and we need to remember that vaccines need to be kept cold, although not frozen, in both storage, transport and at the vaccination point. So, most importantly, we need to thank those unnamed and unsung health workers who last week were daily breaking the vaccination records, reaching almost 65 000 doses on Friday.

Because of the lower vaccination rates last month, most of the jabs being given now are first doses and we need to wait until next month, with the second jabs, for this dramatic improvement to be translated into the high levels of protection given after the second jab. But a first jab does give some protection, helping to slow down the rate of infection and minimise the symptoms, and in any case we have to give first jabs before we can gain the extra protection from second jabs.

But we also need to remember that with a minimum of 10 million people needing to be vaccinated before herd immunity, and the target might well need to be higher as we approach that total, this means a minimum of 20 million jabs. Our 1,77 million by Saturday is good, but still only just short of 8,9 percent of what we desire.

So we have a long haul ahead of us, and the Government has to maintain lockdowns, although levels can vary, and we can minimise disruption and boosting our safety by being voluntarily and fully complaint with the recommendations and rules.

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