Zimbabwe was among the first African countries to start administering Covid-19 vaccines to its people in February.
Since then we have been in the small group of leaders in primary vaccination against the infection.
Having been among the leading nations from the outset, the country has, once again, joined the small league of African nations that have started offering booster jabs.
By definition, booster doses are given to a vaccinated population that has completed a primary vaccination series, in the case of Covid-19, one or two doses of vaccine depending on the product. They are given at a time when the immunity and clinical protection offered by the primary vaccination would have fallen below a rate deemed sufficient in that population.
The objective of a booster dose is to restore vaccine effectiveness from that considered no longer sufficient.
According to an international medical journal, Lancet, a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine is effective in protecting individuals against severe outcomes when compared with receiving only two doses at least five months ago.
A Lancet study estimated that a third dose had up to 93 percent effectiveness in preventing Covid-19-related hospital admission, reduced severe disease by up to 92 percent and prevented up to 81 percent of Covid-19-related fatalities.
Mauritius started giving dose number three on September 23, Tunisia starting its own booster campaign in the same month. Morocco, which has vaccinated 67 percent of its population, started giving the third dose in October. South Africa was expected to begin its own process on November 8.
Egypt’s health ministry said on November 24 it would activate within days its plan to offer vaccine booster shots. Nigeria said on November 15 it would do the same.
Given that the first Covid-19 jabs were given in our country 10 months ago, the science that the capacity of a vaccine to prevent severe disease is five or six months and the emergence of new variants, the Government has said frontline workers, senior citizens and those who are immuno-compromised can, with immediate effect, start getting third doses. If one got two doses of Sinovac, Sinopharm or Sputnik V they will get their third dose of the same vaccine.
“I am asking you all to be vaccinated and this morning I made a decision that those who have been fully vaccinated can go for a booster shot, which is the third one if they want,” President Mnangagwa said in Bulawayo on Friday, while also urging citizens to continue wearing masks, sanitising, washing hands with soap under running water and social distancing.
“We have enough doses for everyone in this country. We are receiving many more doses of vaccines in about five to six days from now, which are more than the country’s population. Even if people get double vaccination, we still have a surplus.
Those who think they want a booster you can go and get the third jab. Those who haven’t been vaccinated, I urge you to get vaccinated, no one is safe until you also get vaccinated then we all feel safe.”
The manner in which the Government has tackled Covid-19, from the nuanced restrictions it has imposed to the administration of vaccines is truly to be commended, especially so for a country whose economy is under sanctions.
As a result of the measures, infection rates and fatalities are generally manageable. Also, the Government has procured or received donations totaling up to 20 million vaccine doses with millions more on the way. About 2, 8 million citizens had been fully immunised by Saturday while 3, 8 million had had their first jab.
The Government decision to give the third dose to those who are willing will certainly assist in reducing the severe impact of Covid-19. It shows that the fight against this lethal infection is top of authorities’ priority list. It, too, shows that the Government’s response to Covid-19 is led by science for frontline workers who had had their first two jabs around March, which is nine months ago, now need booster shots. Additionally, no one knows the potency of omicron, the latest Covid-19 strain.
Yes, the country is a distance away from attaining herd immunity, that of having fully immunised about 10 million citizens, but the reason why that is so is not a shortage of vaccines, only vaccine hesitancy among our people. Indeed, vaccination centres have been empty of clients since August and there are millions of doses that have not been administered.
As the President said on Friday, even if one gets double vaccination, there remains a surplus of vaccines. Therefore, there is nothing stopping the Government moving to the next stage, while, of course, still offering primary vaccination.
Multiple times, we have decried, in this space, the refusal of some citizens to get vaccine protection. Our message is still the same, let us all get the Covid-19 vaccine and continue wearing face masks, avoiding crowds, washing and sanitising our hands and taking good care of our health.