The government is set to begin COVID-19 vaccinations this week, using the recently donated COVISHIELD vaccines from India and prioritising those aged 55 years and above, and those with known underlying conditions.
While official confirmation was unavailable at the time of going to press yesterday evening, Mmegi has learnt that closed door meetings have been taking place involving different levels of the public and private healthcare sectors.
In Serowe West, Tshimoyapula/Majwanaadipitse councillor, Katholo Tapologo on Wednesday confirmed that local healthcare providers in the area had said the vaccination campaign would begin on Monday, March 22 prioritising those aged 55 years and above.
“The village leadership met at Tshimoyapula kgotla after we were summoned by the village nurse,” he said.
“We were instructed to mobilise people to prepare for the vaccinations.”
Government, meanwhile has launched an online self-registration platform for the COVID-19 vaccination. The platform will be used to register eligible COVID-19 vaccine beneficiaries prior to receiving the vaccine, Health Minister, Edwin Dikoloti told the launch of the vaccine communication programme on Wednesday.
Mmegi is informed that the online platform will cover the COVISHIELD (AstraZeneca) jabs as well as other vaccines government is expecting to come in batches every two weeks. Government is expecting more than 100, 000 AstraZeneca doses under the World Health Organisation’s COVAX arrangement, as well as more being procured from Johnson and Johnson.
Yesterday, officials were tight-lipped on the details of the upcoming vaccination programme, with Health Ministry permanent secretary, Kabelo Ebineng saying authorities were “not ready to deal with the specificity of your questions”.
“We expect to fully address that on Monday,” he added, pledging to get in touch with Mmegi on the matter then.
The Health Services director, Malebogo Kebabonye did not return calls or texts on the same matter.
Mmegi had wanted to confirm that the vaccination will start on Monday March 22 and be limited to those aged 55 years and above.
However, in a televised briefing on Tuesday, Kebabonye appeared to confirm the same details, although she stopped shy of giving a specific date or specifying the first recipients.
“We have finalised the vaccination plan and Phase 1 will cover the most urgent cases as well as the frontline workers who are being infected in their work,” she said.
“We have looked at the ages of the most affected and it is mostly the elderly.
“We are confirming that and will focus on those who are most at risk due to underlying conditions.
“You must understand that we cannot start with everyone at the same time, but those most at risk, then keeping working through to reach everyone.”
Kebabonye said the vaccination would start “in the week beginning March 22,” but pledged to return with
Meanwhile, the Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) has requested an emergency meeting with Health Ministry authorities to clarify the risks surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine.
BONU president, Obonolo Rahube, said the Union had met Ministry authorities on March 11, but the matter was not concluded.
“It is true we wrote to Ministry of Health seeking further consultation, especially on the issue of the side effects that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine could cause on the individuals,” he said.
“We appreciate the effort by government to try to save lives of Batswana, but as nurses, we do not want to be seen vaccinating Batswana with something that has negative side effects.
“WHO has given us the greenlight, but as the nurses’ Union we want the Botswana Medicines Regulatory Authority (BOMRA) to come clear on this issue and avail a report to us.
“Where is BoMRA and why is it quiet on this matter?”
Mmegi has learnt that the nurses are contemplating refusing to vaccinate people if BoMRA does not give BONU a report on the vaccine.
The Botswana Doctors Union (BDU), meanwhile, is backing the AstraZeneca jab after initially expressing public doubts about the vaccine. In a statement on Wednesday, BDU secretary general, Charles Muyela, said the Union now believed government should allay public fears about use of the vaccine.
“Botswana Doctors Union has noted that only 30, 000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have arrived in Botswana.
“Given this limited number of vaccine doses, and coupled with the fact that we do not know when the next consignment of vaccines will arrive or which Covid-19 vaccine it will be, BDU advises that the vaccine be prioritised to those who are more likely to die if they get the Covid-19 virus.
“We still believe that although limited, the AstraZeneca will still confer some benefit to this cluster, being those above the age of 55 and those with comorbid conditions, not excluding health care workers in the same cluster,” he said.
The statement was in line with comments made earlier in the week by the PS, Ebineng, who told a televised briefing that the doctors had revised their previous concerns about AstraZeneca and were now supportive of the vaccine.
Use of the AstraZeneca dose has been suspended by several European Union countries recently, amidst a handful of cases involving blood clots. On Tuesday, Ebineng said millions of AstraZeneca shots had been administered globally and far outweighed the risks, although Botswana would keep studying the research on the COVID-19 vaccine.