Despite government going all out to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines, the uptake among Namibians remains worryingly low, which effectively scuppers the full reopening of the country.
The hesitant population includes healthcare workers of who, according to President Hage Geingob, only 14.5% have been vaccinated against the virulent pandemic.
Geingob said the national vaccination coverage currently stands at 15.1% of the population for those who have received their first dose, while 9% of the population are fully vaccinated.
"This is a long shot from the requisite 60% total population coverage target to achieve herd immunity by March 2022," said Geingob, adding that vaccination remains one of the effective measures in our national response to avert serious illness and death from Covid-19.
Geingob pointed out these facts at the 34th Covid-19 briefing, which also saw amendments to the regulations, including an extension of curfew from 23h00 to 04h00; public gatherings will be increased but still limited to 150 from 100 people.
The new measures will be enforced from 16 September 2021 to 15 October 2021.
Namibia's vaccination rate was at 482 persons on 1 August 2021 but there has been an average vaccine uptake rate of 3 556 doses per day for September, a number that is significantly low, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which suggests the country needs to at least inoculate 10 000 citizens a day to reach herd immunity by December 2021.
"When the government developed the National Covid-19 Vaccination and Deployment Plan earlier this year, we adopted the principle of voluntary vaccination. That approach aimed to encourage vaccine uptake voluntarily," stated Geingob.
There has been, however, broad discussion on different platforms about mandatory vaccination, where it has been reported that some employers are making it a requirement for their employees to get vaccinated.
This does not change the position adopted by government.
Geingob said: "Vaccination in Namibia remains voluntary. It must be emphasised that Covid-19 is evolving and the measures to combat it effectively must, as a matter of necessity, also evolve to be robust and dynamic."
He added the government is considering available options on how to protect people, overcoming the pandemic as a public health threat and returning to normalcy.
Discussions on the way forward have commenced, and the nation will be informed accordingly.
The Covid-19 vaccine rollout consultant of WHO in Namibia, Dr Abdulwahab Al-anesi, told New Era yesterday the slow uptake is because of a number of factors, including the hesitancy among people.
"The wrong information is not helping the uptake. The target is, by end of this month, we need to reach at least 10%; by the end of the year, we need 40% - and mid next year, 70%," detailed Al-anesi.
The vaccine specialist said Namibia is trying its level best to give more options for people to have additional vaccines and cooperation, and working together is key in containing the virus.
"When we have more vaccines, we have more options, and we are expecting things to improve. People have to realise that adhering to the regulations are some of the ways that everyone can do, social distancing, wearing masks properly, hand hygiene and so forth," he pointed out.
"There are more doses arriving in the country, and we need to utilise them; this will encourage the donors, as the vaccine is being used optimally. The vaccines have a certain shell life - and if people are not getting vaccinated, they go to waste, and the donors will change their minds."
On the suggestions of making vaccination mandatory, he informed that the health organisation remains in favour of voluntary vaccination.
"If a vaccinated person has positive stories to tell about their experience, they will be one of the people promoting vaccines. There is no need to force people to get vaccinated. WHO doesn't recommend mandatory vaccination but it promotes vaccination," stated Al-anesi.
Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula said persons who have received the first dose have built up immunity against Covid-19 and are, therefore, afforded a level of protection, and those who are not vaccinated are the most at risk of severe illness and death.
"We are seeing this in our daily statistics, as the great majority of persons who are currently hospitalised are those that have not been vaccinated. The Covid-19 deaths recorded in the country in the past three weeks are almost exclusively of persons who have not been vaccinated. Let us do what is right and get vaccinated," stated Shangula.
A little over 230 000 Namibians have received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, while about 142 000 are considered fully vaccinated.