Mashudu Netsianda and Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporters
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa yesterday said Government has resolved to provide Covid-19 booster shots to interested citizens who are fully vaccinated as a way of enhancing their immunity against the disease.
A booster shot occurs when a vaccinated individual is further jabbed to increase their immunity.
The decision follows a new spike in Covid-19 infections in the country, which come at a time when the world has started recording the Omicron variant first detected in Botswana and South Africa.
Omicron has a high number of mutations, 32, in its spike protein, and preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection, when compared with other variants of concern.
Most developed countries including the United Kingdom and United States have already started providing vaccine boosters for their populations.
In view of a likely fourth wave, which the new variant, Omicron, will most certainly drive, President Mnangagwa on Tuesday announced new Covid-19 lockdown measures to mitigate against the threat posed by new strain.
Cabinet declared the Omicron a variant of concern in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
In an address at Barbourfields Stadium after conducting the National Clean-up campaign in Mzilikazi suburb, Bulawayo to mark the third anniversary of the programme which he launched on December 5 in 2018, President Mnangagwa said due to the emergence of the new variant, Government has tightened the lockdown measures in order to deal with the possible fourth wave.
“We do not want to constrain our people, but as President I must choose between allowing you to do what you want at the time you want and you die or refuse you to do things as you want, but as I direct you so that you survive,” he said.
“I choose that you must behave in a manner that creates survival than the manner or behaviour that results in death.”
The President urged all eligible citizens to get vaccinated to help fight the spread of the virus.
“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. We have enough doses for everyone in this country,” he said.
President Mnangagwa said the country has enough stock of vaccines with more expected to arrive within the next few days.
“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 a get the third jab,” he said.
“Those who haven’t been vaccinated, I urge you to get vaccinated, no one is safe until you also get vaccinated then we will all feel safe.”
The President urged citizens to continue observing WHO protocols that is wearing of masks, sanitisation or washing hands with soap under running water and social distancing.
In a statement yesterday, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Robert Mudyiradima said frontline workers and those of ill health can receive the booster shot immediately.
“Booster doses for frontline workers, those with chronic diseases and the elderly to commence with immediate effect,” read part of his statement.
Health experts welcomed the introduction of booster shots saying they will increase citizen’s immunity against Covid-19.
Zimbabwe Medical Association president Dr Francis Chiwora said vaccines fade away over time hence booster shots are necessary.
“If you get vaccinated it stimulates the immunity to a certain level but with passage of time, that immunity tends to wear off.
It’s like someone who has taken food or a drink. Let’s say beer for instance, if someone drinks alcohol the levels in the blood goes up to a certain level but with passage of time, it wears off until it is not there.
So, with the booster if it reaches a lower level then you get another dose it picks up your immunity to high level again,” said Dr Chiwora.
He said the country is following global trends where some nations are providing booster shots to their populations.
“It is an important development because what has come up, is that with vaccines protection tends to wear off.
So, a booster vaccine is quite essential more or less for all the population. But I think the people at risk are the ones that need to be prioritised at the beginning.
It is an important development, elsewhere the whole populations, in the United Kingdom they are giving them booster shots,” he said.
Dr Chiwora said those who have not been vaccinated should also aim to do so for the country to achieve herd immunity.
The country is targeting to vaccinate at least 10 million citizens to achieve herd immunity by the end of this month.
However, there are concerns that some citizens do not want to be vaccinated and so far, 3,8 million people have received their first jab while 2,8 million have been fully vaccinated.
Bulawayo City Council health services director Dr Edwin Sibanda said booster shots are common especially in areas that are prone to common colds and Covid-19 being a severe flu it was important that members of the public get jabbed again.
“So, I will not be surprised because the timing of it can be anything from six months after the last dose to one year.
Usually, it’s almost standard that is why people get it almost every year.
So, the frontline workers were vaccinated around February and we are now getting to February.
I don’t think there will be any harm in getting it,” said Dr Sibanda.
He said while some people have been reluctant to get vaccinated it was necessary for the Government to protect those who want to be protected.
“At some point in public health or in any fight there is a point where you put up a coalition of the willing if you are to quote George Bush Junior.
Where you say sihamba labahambayo abangafuniyo sibatshiye (We move with those who want to move).
We can’t wait for the last guy to make up his mind.
He may never make up his mind. Let those that would need protection get maximum protection and those that do not want, leave it to their fate,” he said.
Earlier in the week, national Covid-19 taskforce co-ordinator, Dr Agnes Mahomva bemoaned complacency among members of the public in observing Covid-19 regulations.
“People seem to think that there is nothing that is happening with Covid-19. They think there is nothing that is going to happen to them. So, they are basically relaxed,” he said.
Meanwhile, police yesterday said they will intensify operations to enhance compliance to Covid-19 regulations by members of the public.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi urged members of the public to observe the 9PM to 6AM curfew among other measures.
“The police will ensure that the law takes its course on all members of the public who disregard the curfew order without a valid reason.
Only essential services providers will be allowed passage at police checkpoints during curfew periods. All social gatherings or activities allowed by the Government should be cleared by 9PM,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
He said the business community should also comply with the laid down regulations.
Asst Comm Nyathi said police will conduct patrols around the border areas to ensure that no one breaks the law.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police will also take action against anyone who tries to enter or exit the country’s borders without following laid down protocols.
This includes bus operators and crew who are moving at night violating the curfew order and at the same time assisting smugglers bring in smuggled goods into the country without following customs and excise formalities,” said Asst Comm Nyathi. — @nqotshili.