BY MOSES MATENGA
Zimbabwe, which has extended a begging bowl to locals to finance the acquisition of Covid-19 vaccines, is dragging its feet in signing for a United Nations (UN) facility for poor countries to access doses at no cost.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube yesterday appealed to well-wishers to contribute to a government fund to buy vaccines that would be administered to all Zimbabweans for free.
Ncube said government had launched a “broader private sector initiative for the corporate sector, citizens to contribute financially and/or otherwise towards the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines”.
“Donations and contributions for this initiative can be sent directly to National Disaster Fund accounts and mobile wallets,” he said.
His appeal was, however, queried by local health industry experts who say Zimbabwe has been giving unreasonable excuses not to sign to the UN’s Covax facility — a global initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
The southern African country could be guaranteed over one million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-University of Oxford Covid-19 vaccines by July if government signs up to the facility.
Zimbabwe is said to be leaning towards vaccines from China and Russia while raising reservations about vaccines under the Covax facilty.
A local health insurance industry official familiar with discussions over Zimbabwe’s proposed Covid-19 vaccination plans said government officials were raising questions about why vaccines acquired under the Covax facility were only earmarked for third world countries.
“They are raising conspiracy theories oblivious of the urgency required to get these vaccines,” the official said.
“The World Health Organisation is very frustrated about Zimbabwe’s attitude towards the facility.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba on Friday suggested that the British government tried into coerce Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga to signing up for Covax before Zimbabwe could do its own technical assessments.
He described an offer extended by British ambassador to Zimbabwe Melanie Robinson for the country to access the Covax facility as “vacuous”.
The British embassy in Harare yesterday said Zimbabwe would not be forced to sign up to the facility, if it was not willing, its allocation of vaccines would be offered to countries that needed them.
“Covax is a global coalition led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI which will get 1,3 billion doses to the 92 poorest countries in the world as Covax announced this week,” a British embassy spokesperson told The Standard yesterday.
“An initial allocation of 1,15 million doses has been set aside for Zimbabwe before July.
“These vaccines will be free of charge.
“The Covax facility also provides support for technical assistance, for example, through WHO and Unicef to help countries prepare to deliver the vaccines — with guidance, tools and training — as well as support for cold chain storage for those who need it.
“It’s important to note that these are discussions between the countries that wish to benefit from Covid-19 vaccines and Covax: the UK is not involved.”
The embassy said the UK will not benefit from Zimbabwe taking part in the Covax facility.
“As our ambassador made it clear in her meeting with VP Constantino Chiwenga in December, the UK is proud to be one of the biggest funders of Covax, which was set up to vaccinate 20% of the most vulnerable in the poorest countries,” the embassy spokesperson added.
“In Zimbabwe that equates to about three million people.
“The UK doesn’t benefit from Zimbabwe taking part: indeed if Zimbabwe decides not to take up the vaccines, that allocation will go to another country.”
The government is also said to be showing little interest in initiatives by local industry bodies to import vaccines for the inoculation of their workers and families.
Several industry bodies have submitted proposals to source for Covid-19 vaccines to the Health and Child Care ministry, but there has been no response, sources said.
Ncube said the decision to ask for donations followed “constructive engagements between the government, private sector and well-wishing citizens, in the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines”.
Former Health minister Henry Madzorera said the government should make its position on the Covax facility public.
“We also want to know: Is the government tapping into the Covax facility, and are we going to work with other reliable partners we have worked with before in the field of immunisation?” Madzorera asked.
MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said the government’s policy position on Covid-19 vaccines was unclear.
“The policy confusion, contradictory communication and sheer lack of a solid plan being exhibited by government over this vaccine roll-out is cause for concern,” Mahere tweeted.
“They claim they’re ready, but they’ve no funding in place let alone a scientific decision on which vaccine to use. Pathetic.”
Ncube has previously said Zimbabwe has enough money to buy vaccines to cover the whole population.
Last week he said “private citizens” would have to fund their own vaccination, before Mnangagwa and Chiwenga publicly said every Zimbabwean who wanted to be vaccinated would be inoculated for free.
Ncube later said his statement had been taken out of context.