HARARE – Zimbabwe has launched a new COVID-19 vaccination campaign that includes jabbing children aged 12 and above to rescue a drive faltering due to vaccine hesitancy and complacency.
This week schools in the southern African country have become vaccination zones with children in school uniforms lining up to get the injections.
Many parents say they support the vaccination drive to prevent schools from becoming centers of infection, although others remain skeptical.
“Let them get vaccinated, it will save us a lot of trouble. Maybe it will stop the constant closures of schools … the online lessons drain us each time the schools are closed,” said Helen Dube, a parent walking her 12-year-old daughter to a school in the crowded Chitungwiza town, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) southeast of the capital, Harare.
“Plus, if schools are safe then we are also safe at home,” she said, referring to instances when schools have become centers of virus infection.
Zimbabwe is gradually returning to its normal school calendar after two years of intermittent and sometimes prolonged closures due to waves of COVID-19 cases.
Adults are also being targeted in the vaccination campaign which will run until mid-May, according to Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the country’s health minister.
Zimababwe was one of the first African countries to give shots of COVID-19 vaccines, achieving higher rates than much of the continent.
About 23% of Zimbabwe's 15 million people have received two jabs, mostly of the Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, far short of the government's initial target of 60% by the end of 2021. President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government now says it is trying to reach a goal of 70% of the eligible population by the end of July.
Just over 5,400 people in Zimbabwe have died from COVID-19, according to official figures, although the toll is likely much higher because of undiagnosed or reported cases, according to health experts.
The government says it has enough vaccine doses, including for booster jabs, but uptake has slowed in recent months as the number of cases and fatalities have slowed. Just over 8 million doses have been used out of more than 22 million in stock, according to government figures.
After experiencing difficulties in getting adequate supplies of vaccines, many African countries are now making concerted efforts to get shots into arms.
Kenya, Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria have also launched mass vaccination campaigns.
While COVID-19 cases have declined across the continent since the peak of the omicron-driven fourth wave in early January 2022, Africa's vaccination coverage remains far behind the rest of the world. About 201 million people or 15.6% of Africa's population of 1.3 billion are fully vaccinated compared with the global average of 57%, according to the World Health Organization.
“While this progress is welcome, the pace of vaccination across the continent needs to increase nine-fold if we are to reach our target of vaccinating 70% of the population by June 2022,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa, said this month.
WHO plans to support mass vaccinations in Africa “in at least 10 priority countries to reach 100 million by the end of April,” according to a WHO statement.
Together Africa’s 54 countries have recorded more than 11.3 million cases, including more than 250,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.