The country's eagerly-awaited COVID-19 vaccination programme gets underway today, Health and Wellness permanent secretary, Kabelo Ebineng confirmed yesterday evening.
Without providing details, Ebineng told Mmegi vaccinations would begin using the COVISHIELD vaccines recently donated by India.
Botswana recently received 30, 000 doses of the COVISHIELD vaccine which is the brand name of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine manufactured under licence by the Serum Institute of India. “Next batch of vaccines will arrive as soon as supplies are available,” he said. “We are expecting notification anytime in the next seven days.”
Batswana have increasingly been demanding answers from government on when the vaccination will begin, as COVID-19 cases rise together with deaths. Figures released by government on Thursday evening showed that the country had 1, 668 active cases as at March 22, with 506 deaths. Since January 1 and March 16, the country recorded 440 deaths, compared to 45 for the whole of 2020. The cases recorded as at March 16 translate to a positivity rate of about eight percent, compared to the five percent the World Health Organisation (WHO) sees as a stable infection rate.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi recently told the nation that the variant first identified in South Africa was behind the spiralling cases of the pandemic in the country. The latest developments take place after health authorities scrambled to put together the regulatory authorisations, training, resources and other consultations required to begin the programme.
Batswana had also complained about the lack of details about the vaccination programme being provided by authorities, ever since the highly public communication strategy was launched last week. Botswana Doctors Union president, Shingie Muzondiwa yesterday afternoon told Mmegi the organisation was unaware of the latest developments regarding the vaccination programme. “The Ministry of Health and presidential task team have not engaged us even on how the public will be vaccinated and people who will do it,” he said.
Botswana Nurses Union president, Obonolo Rahube, meanwhile, told Mmegi the organisation had only been informed that some nurses were being trained on the procedures to follow in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. Ebineng said the medical professionals were now on board.
Botswana is expecting its first major delivery of vaccines from the WHO’s COVAX facility, to which it made a US$10 million down payment last November. Other vaccines are expected from the African Union’s scheme, to which Botswana also self-financed its participation. Critics have questioned why self-financing countries such as Botswana still have not received vaccines while other African states being supported by donors have already taken hold of consignments.
Iryna Mazur, senior media relations manager at GAVI, an organisation partnered with COVAX, conceded to Mmegi there had been delays in securing vaccines for countries such as Botswana. As a self-financing country, Botswana is receiving its COVAX doses directly from AstraZeneca as opposed to the Serum Institute of India where nearly all the rest of Africa is receiving from. The country is expecting more than 100, 000 doses.
“The COVAX Facility has informed participants allocated AstraZeneca-manufactured doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that some of the first deliveries due in March are now set to take place in April,” she said in an emailed response yesterday evening.
“In this early phase of COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, vaccine manufacturers require time to scale and optimise their production processes. “AstraZeneca, which uses a novel supply chain network with sites across multiple continents, is working to enable initial supply to 82 countries through COVAX in the coming weeks.”