Despite a relatively low Covid-19 vaccine uptake in southern Africa, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa have started or approved booster jabs, particularly for frontline workers as a fourth infection wave sets in.
In Zimbabwe, a spike in Covid 19 cases linked to the Omicron variant of the virus that causes the disease, has paralysed that country’s parliament, judiciary and education system. At least 100 schools have been forced to shut down. On Wednesday, there were five deaths – up from three the previous day and the number of new cases recorded stood at 4 996.
Secretary in that country’s Ministry of Health and Child Care, Robert Mudyiradima, said in a statement: “Booster doses for frontline workers, those with chronic diseases and the elderly [ae] to commence with immediate effect.”
The booster jab will be administered from the latest donation of a million doses from China. To date, Zimbabwe has received 12 million doses of the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines from China.
In South Africa, where scientists discovered the Omicron variant, preliminary studies showed that a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can neutralise the Omicron variant. As such, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) has approved it.
“Following evaluation of the data submitted, Sahpra has approved a third dose of the Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine in individuals aged 18 years and older, to be administered at least six months after the second dose,” the regulator said in a statement.
Zambia’s Ministry of Health said on Saturday that out of 60 detected cases, three were caused by the Omicron variant. However, the country has not announced any measures for booster jabs.
In Mozambique’s conflict zone of Cabo Delgado, the Rwanda Security Force (RSF) members received their third doses on Monday.
Back in Rwanda, citizens aged 50 and above have started receiving booster jabs.
On Tuesday, Namibia detected 18 cases involving the Omicron variant. A relatively low 12.1 percent of the country’s 2.4 million people have been fully vaccinated. The Omicron variant emerged at a time when Namibia destroyed 150 000 expired vaccines.
President Hage Geingob blamed the expiry on the low uptake of vaccines. However, with Omicron in their midst, he urged those who can to go for booster jabs.
“Instead of throwing away vaccines, citizens who wish to go for booster jabs are encouraged to do so,” he said at a news conference in Windhoek on Tuesday.
At the start of December, Swaziland announced that it would halt the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines because of low uptake. About 200 000 doses are set to be destroyed in December, even though the country is administering booster jabs.
Our World Data, a think tank that tracks global problems, says only eight percent of people in Africa have been fully vaccinated, compared to 60 percent in South America, 55 percent in North America, and 59 percent in Europe. Half of the Asian population has been vaccinated while in the Oceania region, 56 percent has been vaccinated.
In a statement, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation warned that vaccine inequity was the major driver in the emergence of new variants that could be deadlier.”
The longer the world takes to deliver vaccine equity, the more we allow Covid-19 to mutate and become more dangerous. This new variant (Omicron) demonstrates that vaccine nationalism is a short-sighted approach that is self-defeating and puts us all at risk. It reinforces the reality, once again, that no one is safe until everyone is safe.”