Major boost for Zim’s quest for herd immunity

Tirivanhu Kateera

In Zimbabwe, the first COVID-19 case was recorded on 20th of March 2020 in Victoria Falls. Since then, the number of cases steadily rose until in recent months when statistics began declining. The decline has been attributed to various interventions such as COVID-19 vaccination program introduced by Government to halt the spread of the disease.

The COVID-19 vaccination program had become mandatory to some sections of the society such as civil servants, tourism industry and others.

The country has recorded about 133 205 cases of COVID-19 and 4 690 deaths as at 09 November, 2021. It is hoped that these figures will not go up again and that can only happen if everyone plays his or her part through washing hands, social distance and getting vaccinated to keep the figures truncated.

Government is now pushing for the country to reach herd immunity in the shortest possible time, to ensure the safety of all Zimbabweans and attract tourists again, who had their travel restricted due the pandemic. In the pursuit for herd immunity it is heartening to note that Government is exploring all possible avenues using mainly locally mobilised resources to inoculate 60 percent of the population to achieve the target.

Herd immunity, or community immunity, is when a large part of the population of an area is immune to a specific disease. If enough people are resistant to the cause of a disease, such as a virus or bacteria, will eventually die down.

Most recently Zimbabwe approved the use of China's Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine for 16 and 17-year teenagers, aiming that the country could achieve herd immunity by the end of December 2021.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care stated that the decision was taken after a recommendation from specialist paediatricians and was still considering whether to vaccinate even younger children.

 Minister of Health and also Vice President, Constantino CHIWENGA said, "All the provinces, secondary schools, colleges, universities and vaccination centres are hereby required to commence the vaccination campaign of this age group with immediate effect."

Zimbabwe is not alone; a growing number of countries within and outside the region had approved, or were considering approving, COVID-19 vaccinations for children and adolescents. Across the Limpopo, South Africa, for example, had already administered shots to those aged 12 and over as it looked to ramp up the level of COVID-19 protection within its population.

This move by Zimbabwe’s southern neighbour is also positive considering that a number of the country’s sons and daughters are living and working in that country, when they come for the festive season, somehow worry is reduced.

Last year Zimbabwe experienced an increase in infections during the festive season as its citizens from neighbouring South Africa, Botswana and elsewhere travelled back home for the summer holiday. To avoid a fourth wave this festive season, it is essential for the country to reach herd immunity.

The Sinovac shot would be the only vaccine eligible for use on teenagers. The country has predominately used Sinovac and another Chinese vaccine, Sinopharm, in its vaccination campaign so far. The Health ministry stressed that Zimbabwe was determined to reach herd immunity by the end of the year and that 38 percent of the targeted population had been vaccinated by the end of October, 2021.

Undoubtedly, the move by the Government to add teenagers into the vaccination programme is noble as this will aid in the country’s drive to reach herd immunity soonest. The move also seeks to reduce infections in schools since these teenagers are within the range of school going age (16-17 years) especially against the background that a number of COVID-19 cases were recorded when schools re-opened for the third term something that almost threatened the resumption of classes.

There is, however, need for thorough clinical trials on the compatibility of the vaccine to the age group in order to minimise casualties during the administering process and to boost confidence of the recipients and their parents or guardians.

For now Government must be applauded for this move to incorporate the teenage age group in the vaccination programme as this would reduce infections in schools and aid in the attainment of herd immunity making the country and envy of both friends and foes.

Globally, the number of people who died from COVID-19 has surpassed 5 million according to the data held by the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Coronavirus Resource Centre.

The message all Zimbabweans should comprehend is that vaccination is the only sure way to return to normalcy.