By KELVIN MBEWE
A total of 1, 182 people have died COVID-19 in Zambia since the first case was recorded March 15, 2020.
This is according to the last update on the virus from the Minister of Health Dr Jonas Chanda on March 21, 2020.
Like the rest of the world Zambia has been grappling with the negative effects of the virus in the social and economic spheres.
Like the rest of the world, Zambia is also actively considering acquiring a vaccine to curb further transmission and also stave off a possible third wave of the pandemic as the weather switches to a colder environ from about May through to July.
Dr Chanda said the country has been consulting with its Immunisation Technical Advisory Group on options for vaccines.
The country is now waiting approval from its cabinet which is yet to decide on which vaccine will be suitable for the country, and other modalities.
Dr Chanda said his Ministry is keeping tabs on how the vaccine roll out has gone on in other African countries that have begun inoculating their populations to learn and adapt the situation to Zambia. Of acute importance is whether there is a reduction in transmission rates of the virus.
“As we continue to closely monitor the evolving epidemiology in the country’s that have made progress in their vaccine roll out, we note that attaining good vaccine coverage is essential for herd immunity,” he said.
The question now is which vaccine should Zambia settle for?
The vaccines recommended by the WHO are AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer and Johnsons and Johnsons.
Professor Lloyd Mulenga the Director Infectious Diseases at the Ministry of health said in an interview with the Zambia Daily Mail that Johnson’s and Johnson’s, or AstraZeneca could be good for Zambia considering that they can be stored at temperatures which Zambia is able to maintain.
“In terms of Pfizer and Moderna, it’s very difficult for us as a country to store them because the cold chain requirements require below 70 to 80 degrees which we may not be able to achieve.”
Another issue to be considered is the type of variant of the virus that is in Zambia.
“The variant is very important to consider as there are reports of certain variants not being responsive to certain vaccines. However the Ministry of Health and government are closely looking at emerging data on variants and vaccine response to make an informed choice,” he said.
He said a lot of countries in Southern Africa are using AstraZeneca.
“In our region we have South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Bostwana, Angola and Nigeria. These countries are using AstraZeneca. Personally looking at Zambia I think Johnson’s and Johnson’s and AstraZeneca can be considered,” he said.
And Prof. Mulenga says people have gone to the Ministry of Health to express their interest in getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccines come into the country.
“It is not mandatory, Individuals are being given the choice, but we hope majority of people will get the vaccine,” he said.
And when asked about the possibilities of an outbreak of a third wave of the virus Prof. Mulenga said the likelihood is high.
“If a third wave does not come, that will be great but from indicators that are available and knowing the way the virus has been behaving, it is very likely that the third wave will break out,” he said.
And the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the lack of a vaccine in Zambia is one of the reasons why the country is likely to experience a third wave of the corona virus.
CDC country director Simon Agolory said this when he addressed journalists that belong to a science advocacy group called MESICA on 4 March, 2021.
“Because there is no vaccine yet, the risks of cases coming back are high around June, July, August when it’s winter,” he said.
With regards the scepticism surrounding the vaccines by some people, Dr Agolory said it normal to expect such concerns and they have to be addressed to ensure that people best understand the process of vaccine development and administration.
“If you can reflect back to the early years of HIV, when anti-retroviral therapy was introduced. There were concerns that it would make people sick or sterile and it would kill people,” he said.
He attributed such fears to false information that is circulating on the internet.
Dr Agolory assured that the vaccines undergo safety requirements in their Development.
He however said just like any vaccine, corona virus vaccine have side effects but that no vaccine related death has been recorded.
“Pfizer and Moderna have been tried on thousands of people and the most side effect is pain after the injection for a few hours. In other instances people can have a swelling, chills or headache, after being vaccinated,” he said.
Dr Agolory said such side effects do not mean that the vaccine is bad but that it is doing what it is supposed to do.
“Another side effect which is however not common is anoflaxis where some people develop shortness of breath and swollen eyelids,” he said.
And when asked about the best vaccine that Zambia can use, Dr Agolory said any of the four common vaccines that the World Health Organisation has recommended is good.
“Right now we know that Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are 94 to 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections or death and this is every country’s goal,” he said
While some Zambians have no problem with the COVID- 19 vaccination others are not for the idea of being vaccinated.
Cornwell Tepa a Lusaka resident says the aim of the vaccine is to wipe out people.
“This are not vaccines but gene therapies. Vaccination is well intended for diseases that have no cure but COVID-19 can be cured,” he said.
And another Lusaka resident Ireen Chewe said she has no problem with the vaccine.
“If it well administered then no problem. I’m only unsettled with word going round that the vaccine is a tracking device which will enable the system to monitor us and that it will give them the power to kill me once I get the vaccine,” he said.
So which vaccine will it be for Zambia Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or the Johnsons and Johnsons and will the country be able to stave off the third wave..? Only cabinet knows.