Kampala, Uganda — Tanzania has received the first shipment of 1,058,400 doses of COVID-19 vaccines donated by the US government.
The vaccines delivered through the COVAX arrangement arrived at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salam on July 26 under the watchful eyes of Donald Wright, the US ambassador to Tanzania and Dr. Dorothy Gwajima, Tanzania's Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children.
COVAX is a global initiative working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries.
Other senior officials present to witness the reception included; Amb. Liberata Mulamula, Tanzania's minister of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Dr. Tigest Ketsela, the WHO country representative to Tanzania and Shalini Bahuguna, the UNICEF Representative to Tanzania.
According to Bahuguna, the UNICEF Country Representative to Tanzania, the consignment received is part of an initial delivery to Tanzania. It is expected that more COVAX deliveries will land in Tanzania in the coming months.
"The vaccines that arrived today and all the vaccines arriving in Tanzania over the coming months, have all been vigorously tested and deemed safe and effective by some of the best vaccine experts in the world. I therefore urge everyone who is offered the vaccine to take it," she said.
Speaking shortly after the handover ceremony, Amb. Wright said America's delivery of the vaccines to Tanzania was a "continuation of the United States and Tanzania's 60-year partnership. "We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic," she said.
"The U.S. government, via agencies such as USAID and CDC, has invested for decades in strengthening the Tanzanian health system and institutions to be able to respond quickly to urgent needs such as this one."
Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan to get vaccinatedhttps://t.co/vjwf3aVLqR pic.twitter.com/M61eB3Bb4a
-- The Independent (@UGIndependent) July 27, 2021
Dr. Gwajima, Tanzania's health minister informed the public on the plans to roll out the vaccines in the coming days.
"We have assured ourselves that these vaccines are safe and we will make them available at health facilities in selected priority regions, free of charge," she said, "As we are working to mobilize more vaccines, this first phase of the roll out will prioritize frontline health workers, the elderly (50years and above) and those with chronic illnesses."
Dr. Gwajima was also quick to defuse the anti-vaccine rhetoric circulating via social media platforms. "We are aware of the rumours circulating on the social media about vaccines, but I urge you to follow the advice provided by our health experts as credible sources of information. Vaccines are an additional bullet to the public health measures we are promoting in fighting this pandemic," she said.
Mulamula added: "Tanzania has a track record of doing very well with immunization. This COVID-19 vaccine is not different from the other vaccines. Let us embrace the same spirit with these vaccines. We will continue to work in collaboration with partners and nations, because partnership is the way to go."
Dr. Tigest Ketsela urged the Tanzanian government to continue being vigilant. "While delivery of these vaccines represents a stronger hope to save lives, vaccination does not replace the need for the key preventive measures of frequent hand washing, social distancing, masking, sanitizing, and avoiding gatherings and crowds. We must unleash the entire armour in solidarity to defeat COVID-19," Dr. Ketsela said.
The vaccine shipment into Tanzania is a quick reversal to the time before President Samia Hassan Suluhu assumed leadership of Tanzania following the sudden death of President John Pombe Magufuli in March this year.
Magufuli, who died on March 18, had repeatedly played down the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Last year, at the time when governments around the world locked down their economies, Magufuli chose to relax most of the SOPs including wearing masks and social distancing. There were no restrictions on gatherings or movements.
He instead asked citizens to rely on prayers and even herbal remedies to defeat the virus. He also tried to question the efficacy of vaccines. Tanzanian authorities even stopped releasing data on COVID-19 in May last year. Since then, the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard shows Tanzania only having 509 infections and 21 fatalities.
But in February, this year, the World Health Organization exerted pressure on the government and it eventually acknowledged that it was dealing with cases of the disease. In April this year, when President Suluhu took over leadership of the country, she immediately named a committee of experts to advise her on anti-COVID-19 measures.
"On the issue of COVID-19 I should form a committee of experts to look at it professionally and then advise the government; it should not be silenced or rejected or accepted without professional research," she said.
Saturday was a historic day for #Tanzania as it received over a million J&J vaccines - a donation from the #US via the #COVAX Facility. These are the first #COVID19 vaccines to arrive in the country! pic.twitter.com/cSoU8DztCe
-- WHO African Region (@WHOAFRO) July 26, 2021
Last month, Godwin Morellel, Tanzania's Deputy Health Minister told Deutsche Welle that the government had warned Tanzanians to be aware of the third wave of COVID-19.
He urged citizens to take all necessary measures including wearing masks, social distancing, and using hand sanitizer to prevent infection. "We are aware that tourists are coming, people from neighbouring countries that surround us," Morellel said.
Early this month, a team of health experts handed in their report on how to roll out mass vaccination to President Suluhu. The report followed another one handed in by a special committee of experts evaluating the COVID-19 situation in Tanzania. Late last month, Tanzania's health ministry warned citizens that a "third wave" of COVID-19 had hit the country.