HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe is preparing to receive its first delivery of China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, saying the shipment will first undergo “rigorous examinations” before being rolled out, officials said.
It will be one of China’s first shipments of vaccines to Africa, after deliveries to Egypt and Equatorial Guinea.
The southern African country’s first vaccines, expected early Monday, will be 200,000 doses of the vaccine donated by the Chinese government, while another 600,000 doses of the same vaccine have been purchased by the government and will arrive early next month, the state-run Sunday Mail reported.
Zimbabwe “aims to assess these vaccines within 48 hours” of arrival, Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe spokesman Shingai Gwatidzo said according to the paper.
Frontline workers such as health professionals and immigration agents working at borders will get first priority for the vaccines, according to a government rollout plan.
On Twitter, Zimbabwe’s embassy in China posted a video of the vaccines being loaded into a state-owned Air Zimbabwe plane in China, touting it as an example of the Asian country’s “friendship” with developing countries.
Zimbabwe has since 2003 turned to China, and also Russia, for assistance after falling out with Western countries that imposed sanctions in response to allegations of human rights abuses and vote-rigging by then-president Robert Mugabe, who lost power in 2017 and died in 2019. His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has continued maintaining close ties with China and Russia as Western countries maintain sanctions, charging that he is as repressive as his predecessor and mentor, Mugabe.
The 200,000 doses arriving from China on Monday are a far cry from the millions needed to administer jabs to the 10 million people, or 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s population, to achieve herd immunity.
Zimbabwe “has also submitted its expression of interest” to be part of an initiative by the African Union to bulk buy vaccines for African countries, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said last week.
Local private businesses have also been asked to donate to help the financially struggling nation buy vaccines.
The government says it has budgeted $100 million for vaccines, apart from the donations it hopes to receive from well-wishers.
African countries, financially weak and relying on vaccines developed elsewhere, have been slow to vaccinate their populations, and experts expect vaccines to start arriving on the continent in higher quantities later this year and next year.
Zimbabwe, like many other African countries, initially recorded low numbers of COVID-19 but has recently experienced a spike in cases.
There are fears that a new, more infectious variant of the virus came to the country when scores of thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa returned home for the holiday season.
The country, whose once robust public health system has deteriorated along with the economy over the past two decades, reported 35,104 cases, including 1,398 deaths, on Feb. 14, up from the slightly more than 10,000 cases and 277 deaths at the beginning of December.