ZIMBABWE passed the five million mark for first doses of Covid-19 vaccination last week with the record breaking blitz now in progress seeing more than 1,39 million doses administered in the last two weeks, almost 15 percent of the total jabs given since the national vaccination programme opened a little over 13 months ago.
Last week, records continued to fall.
In the seven days to Saturday, a total of 808 801 doses were administered, breaking the week-old record of 584 006 set just the previous week, the first week of the blitz, as the vaccination teams organised by the Ministry of Health and Child Care moved into even higher gear.
The daily record of 139 213 set on Friday in the first week of the blitz was shattered twice, hitting 162 645 on Wednesday last week before reaching 166 453 on Thursday.
By Saturday 9 424 824 doses had been administered altogether in the programme, and few doubt that during this week the total will cross the 10 million milestone and continue rapidly upwards.
With 11 239 749 Zimbabweans aged 12 and over, using the Health Ministry population estimates, a lot more doses have to be given with the potential total now over 22,4 million if all those are to receive the required two doses and close on 34 million once they all have the booster shot.
The scale of what still needs to be done can be seen in the ministry statistics. By Saturday 452 788 first does had been administered, with almost 1,04 million given in the first two weeks of the blitz.
But this is just 48,5 percent of the target group, a significant improvement on the 39,27 percent on Saturday March 19 before the blitz started but well below the needed percentages.
Second doses are still a long way behind, with 3 550 021 given, only 31,58 percent of the 12s and over. Part of that is the result of the huge number of first doses given out in the blitz, but part is the more than 800 000 people who have yet to come back for their second dose despite having had their first jab more than four weeks ago.
In fact, last week saw far more third doses being given, 174 242, than second doses, just 65 121. The rapid rise of third doses shows that people -those who rushed in as soon as they could to get both – are still keen.
We are now seeing the large numbers who queued for both jabs in August and September last year, when the pre-blitz records were set, now coming forward for their boosters.
Already 423 015 people have queued for their booster, 3,76 percent of the 12s and over.
Bulawayo, Manicaland and Matabeleland North still lead the provincial pack. Manicaland now has the highest percentages of first shots, with 61,9 percent of the 12s and over with their first shot and is in third place with 6 percent of that age group with the booster.
But just 37,3 percent of Manicaland target age groups have had the first two shots, although that is the third best provincial percentage. The province started its surge later than Bulawayo and Matabeleland North.
Matableland North is in second place on first shots with 60,9 percent and in first place with boosters with almost 6,9 percent, no doubt reflecting the fanaticism in the Victoria Falls tourism areas where everyone wants maximum protection and the sterling efforts by the coal mines.
Bulawayo leads the fully protected with 46,9 percent now with two shots, so a lot of people in that province can go legally into bars, restaurants and night clubs and move in and out of the country without having to spend a lot of money on a PCR test as they do so.
Even the first dose percentage is 59,9 percent, in third place, and the third dose is 5,2 percent, now fourth place.
Matabeleland South is well placed as well to complete the western and eastern high performance with the second best provincial total of 6,05 percent with their booster shot, probably thanks to determination by those in the border towns of Beitbridge and Plumtree to protect themselves against visitors.
On first and second doses it is fourth in the provincial list with 55,5 percent of the targeted group with a first shot and 35,4 percent with the second dose.
These four provinces are the only ones with more than half the 12s and over with the first shot and over a third with the second shot. The rest of the country, the six provinces between the western and eastern edges, is still struggling.
Harare is still pretty pathetic with 43,5 percent with their first shot, 30,9 percent with the second and 3,09 percent with the third, although that is better than Chitungwiza with 39,6 percent with the first, 24,3 percent with the second and 2,14 percent with the third.
As some people in Chitungwiza, especially those who work in Harare, probably went to Harare vaccination centres, the actual provincial percentages must be somewhere between those for Harare and Chitungwiza.
People need to take advantage of the blitz. Infection rates have been rising in Britain and the United States as far too many people relax and conservative political pressures against masking are allowed to flourish.
So far Zimbabwe’s infection rates remain low with an average of 102 new cases a day by Saturday but an average of 1,2 deaths each day, suggesting there is a significant group with very mild symptoms or no symptoms who did bother to seek medical attention and so are not recorded in the infection statistics.
Death rates are very accurate since everyone who dies in Zimbabwe needs a certificate before burial. And tests are compulsory if there is any suspicion that death could be a result of Covid-19. But there is no law that says a sick person must seek medical attention, so some infections are never reported.
The rising vaccination rates are now being reflected in the far smaller percentages of sick people who have to go to hospital. A vaccinated person who does become infected is far less likely to develop the more severe symptoms that need hospitalisation or which can lead to death, but again those are statistical averages, so you get some, but a lot fewer than among the unvaccinated.
The infections are the lowest infection rates this year and are now below those low rates we saw as we exited the fourth Omicron wave, and the worrying bulge in infections we saw in the last two weeks of February and first three weeks of last month, peaking at an average of 506 new daily cases on 9 March.
But that bulge almost became the start of a fifth wave, and shows up both the need for everyone eligible to be vaccinated and for everyone, regardless of whether they have had their jabs, to continue wearing masks, watching crowded areas and maintaining high levels of personal hygiene.
The Zimbabwe Government, unlike those in some countries where infection rates are now rising, has shown zero interest in relaxing the regulations for masking, social distancing and sanitising and has made it clear that these continue.
The relaxations have come for the fully vaccinated, those with at least two shots, who can now drink, eat and socialise in public and travel a lot more easily into and out of Zimbabwe.
Since vaccination does not eliminate risk of infection, although it reduces the risk sharply, medical experts advise very strongly that the lowest risks involve both vaccination and public masking and the other regulations, a belt and braces approach to keeping healthy.
A vaccinated person wearing a mask in public and being dubious about crowds while keeping clean will be extremely unlucky if they fall ill.
The new vaccination blitz is being run in two phases from March to May, with the first phase running from March 21 to April 3, while the second phase runs from May 2 to 15.
Government is targeting to administer Covid-19 vaccines to about 70 percent of the population by end of July 2022 in line with World Health Organisation advice.
Zimbabwe has so far received 22,4 million vaccine doses and used over 9 million doses.
This means over 13 million doses are still available for those receiving their second and booster shots while accommodating those in need of the initial jab.
Since its emergence, the Covid-19 virus has continued to evolve and the WHO has designated five variants of concern; Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron.
The Omicron variant, which accounted for the highest number of cases and deaths across the world between December 2021 and February 2022, was the fastest spreading strain.
Despite the constant change in the virus, the WHO has maintained that vaccination remains the most effective protection against hospitalisation, severe disease and death.
“Vaccines that have received WHO emergency use listing, across several vaccine platforms, provide a high level of protection against severe disease and death caused by variants of concern (VOCs),” a preliminary report WHO noted in January.
The coronavirus is expected to continue evolving and health experts have reiterated the importance of vaccinating people.
Since March 2020 when the first case of Covid-19 was detected, Zimbabwe has recorded 246 481 cases, 238 581 recoveries and 5 446 deaths as at April 2 this year. – Herald