Gareth Willard-Special Correspondent
More than 3 million Zimbabweans, 20 percent of the entire population, have now entered the national vaccination programme by having their first shot of Covid-19 vaccine with more than 2,157 million of these, almost 14,4 percent of the population, being fully vaccinated with both doses.
The other recent milestone was the administration of the 5 millionth dose of vaccine on Sunday this week, with number given reaching 5 165 977 on Thursday, meaning Zimbabwe has now used around 34,4 doses for every 100 people in the population estimated at just over 15 million.
According to the daily reports of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the 3 millionth Zimbabwean to get the first dose was jabbed on Thursday, roughly halfway through the working day, with 3 008 335 Zimbabweans having had their first dose by the time the vaccination centres closed.
From the time the vaccination programme started in February this year it took until Thursday, July 15 to jab the first million people. The second million came up very quickly on Friday 13 August, just 29 days later. But the rate of people coming forward for vaccination, or at least for their first dose, has slowed somewhat, so it took another 41 days before the third million was reached.
Of the 3 million, 529 913 received their first shot in Harare or Chitungwiza, of whom 385 187 are fully vaccinated. This is despite the slower rate of people coming forward in Chitungwiza, although some from that town would have been in Harare to receive their vaccination because of work.
From about mid-July to the end of August more than 200 000 Zimbabweans a week were entering the vaccination programme by getting their first jab. But the numbers have been falling this month and by Thursday we were down to less than 100 000 in the previous seven days coming forward.
Second dose levels correspond to roughly how many people received their first dose four weeks earlier because the Health Ministry generally wants to see a 28-day gap between the two jabs. So second doses this month have been high, corresponding to the high number of first doses in the first three weeks of August.
The lack of any surge in first doses late last week and early this week, after it was announced that all civil servants must have both doses by 15 October or else be barred from their workplaces without pay while awaiting disciplinary proceedings for disobeying a lawful instruction, suggests that almost all civil servants are in fact either fully vaccinated or just counting off the days for their second shot.
Several reasons have been advanced for the slowdown in people coming forward for their first jab.
The supply of vaccine has been good, with regular shipments arriving from our major Chinese suppliers from prepaid orders.
In fact we have used less than half the more than 11 million doses that have now been delivered, and while there must be some wastage it seems that we have used only half of what has already been delivered. So Zimbabwe has the vaccines already in stock to double our present number of vaccinated people.
The Health Ministry has pushed hard to have more teams available, to have more mobile teams in action, especially in rural areas where some might have to walk long distances to a clinic, and has allowed a range of private health centres to administer vaccines for a very modest fee, around $400 or US$3 to US$5 a shot.
There have been some complaints that some local authority clinics are not totally supportive of the drive.
For example, one Chitungwiza clinic limits the number of people it is willing to vaccinate to just 50 a day.
But in the third week of August Zimbabwe’s health system managed to give almost 518 000 jabs, both first and second doses, so even with the odd restriction it appears the system can cope with a lot more demand.
At the moment, with both first and second doses combined, we are running at about half the record rate, only a little over 250 000 jabs a week.
So the decline arises mainly from the number of people coming forward. Complacency is blamed by many. The falling off in people coming forward started with the ebbing of the third wave of infection.
As the risk of infection reduced, because of all the other measures, so did the eagerness to get vaccinated.
The second problem is the problem seen since the beginning of some people willing to believe what they read on social media platforms rather than accept advice from qualified medical professionals.
The social media anti-vaccination message is largely driven by right-wing American sources, reflecting the weird political divide in the United States, who publicise a range of contradictory conspiracy theories.
This even moved into the religious sphere where many white-majority Evangelical congregations rejected vaccination quite vociferously, although the Evangelical congregations with African-American majorities tend to be highly enthusiastic about vaccination.
In Zimbabwe there was some reluctance in two strands of the Christian community, the Evangelical and Apostolic traditions, while the Catholic and liturgical Protestant churches basically encouraged vaccination.
However, a growing number of Zimbabwean Evangelical pastors have been endorsing vaccination and now a growing number of leaders within the Apostolic movement have at least withdrawn their opposition, with some critical endorsements.
Traditional leaders have now generally endorsed and urged vaccination.
According to the latest global figures, Zimbabwe is still one of the leaders in the African vaccination drive. The country is now tied in seventh place with South Africa and Comoros with 20 percent having had at least one dose.
Seychelles remains in the lead with 78 percent, followed by Mauritius on 66 percent, Morocco on 58 percent, Cape Verde of 50 percent, Tunisia on 40 percent and Sao Tome and Principe on 25 percent. Of the top nine countries in Africa, five are the small island countries with very small populations.
Only the two countries in north Africa and the two in southern Africa are big continental countries.