Zimbabwe plays vaccine politics, rejects Western vaccines

George Charamba

HARARE – Zimbabwe, facing a wave of new Covid-19 infections and a slow vaccination campaign, will only accept Chinese, Indian and Russian vaccines under the global vaccine distribution scheme COVAX, a spokesman for President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Monday.

In June, Zimbabwe turned down an invitation to draw down on its three million vaccines allocated under COVAX, claiming lack of storage facilities for the United States-manufactured Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

George Charamba, the spokesman for the presidency, has now suggested that Zimbabwe is deliberately delaying approving vaccines from Europe and the United States in a calculated political move.

Weaving a conspiracy, Charamba claimed the United States embassy in Harare had imported half-a-million vaccines which it handed over to the main opposition MDC Alliance so the party would run a parallel vaccination programme to the government scheme.

The plan, Charamba claimed, had been frustrated by Zimbabwe’s apparent reluctance to licence other vaccines apart from those it has approved so far: China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac; Russia’s Sputnik V and Covaxin from India.

Charamba tweeted: “The United State embassy strategy has been to desperately stampede the ministry of health to allow the government to accept importation and administration of those unregistered vaccines, using Covax facility. This would then provide cover to this political donation.

“Unfortunately for them, Chinese, Russian and Indian vaccines which are now registered for use in the country are now registered with the World Health Organisation, making them part of the COVAX menu.

“Zimbabwe insists that any assistance under COVAX limits itself to those registered vaccines. The United States and their MDC-Alliance lackeys are in a real bind.”

The British-Swedish AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna from the United States are some of the popular vaccines currently being administered.

Charamba claimed that the MDC Alliance had received “two tranches of American vaccines, in total amounting to half-a-million doses for a political vaccination programme through which they hope to checkmate the goodwill that has accrued to Zanu PF through a sprite public vaccination programme.”

The MDC Alliance denied Charamba’s allegations and accused the government of politicising vaccines.

“There’s no truth whatsoever to this,” spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said. “The MDC Alliance has not received vaccines from any person or organisation.

“It’s a matter of regret that government officials are politicking over such an important issue given the vaccination hesitancy that needs to be addressed. As far as we’re concerned, the priority is to save lives.”

Zimbabwe’s decision to pick-and-choose vaccines offered has been criticised, especially as most African countries are battling vaccine shortages.

Just 643,203 of Zimbabwe’s 15 million people were fully vaccinated by Monday, while 1,184,435 had at least taken the first dose.

There were 2,113 new Covid-19 infections and 75 deaths, according to official figures.

The government’s ambitious plan to vaccinate one million more people by the end of July has gone off track, with health workers at public hospitals reporting that they are overwhelmed.

The ministry of health, in a statement on Monday, said it was planning to expand vaccination by roping in private clinics and hospitals.