Everyone aged 12 and above can now be vaccinated against Covid-19 after the Paediatric Association of Zimbabwe, which brings together specialists in child health, gave the greenlight. This now opens the way for a blitz to vaccinate all secondary school pupils and some of the top year in primary schools.
While mobilising teams to move into secondary schools and adding Covid-19 vaccination to the general childhood vaccination programmes, the Government is also preparing for a major vaccination drive among the whole population from next month before the winter months bring expected higher risks to get more people protected against infection or at least far more likely to have lower levels of symptoms if they are unfortunate to be infected.
The Government has always been guided by medical specialists when it sets vaccination policies and before it extended the programme to first the over 80s, then those aged 16 and above and now those aged 12 and above.
The Cabinet yesterday formally extended vaccination to those aged 12 to 15 after receiving the guidance report from the special Covid-19 vaccine group set up by the Paediatric Association approving the extension.
Many countries have already started vaccinating those aged 12 and now are going through the medical checks to see if vaccination can be done for younger children.
So far, in Zimbabwe, more than 4.3 million people have received their first dose, while more than 3.3 million are fully vaccinated and more than 100 000 have now received their booster shots.
The immunisation campaign has drawn praises from the World Health Organisation (WHO), other First World countries and even critics of the Government.
Speaking after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Monitoring Implementation of Government Programmes, Joram Gumbo, filling in for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, who is away on business, announced: “The science-based guidance from the Paediatric Association of Zimbabwe special Covid-19 vaccine group, was for Covid-19 vaccination to be extended to the 12 to 15 years old age group.”
Minister Gumbo also announced that there had been 156 positive cases across the country detected among learners and teachers following the resumption of face-to- face classes two weeks ago.
However, the health and education authorities are still in control, with the numbers very low and not enough to upset the successes
recorded so far in containing the virus.
The slight increase in cases is not only in the education sector and the Cabinet wanted to remind everyone of the need not to loosen their guard. The basic infection control policy adopted in Zimbabwe, on scientific advice, is a combination of measures such as masking, good hygiene and social distancing coupled with the maximum number of people vaccinated.
“Cabinet advises that the number of people in need of hospitalisation for Covid-19 increased, with the country’s bed occupancy rate increasing from 1,3 percent (of cases) the previous week to 2,1 percent during the week under review. A total of 44 new admissions were recorded during the week compared to 32 the previous week,” said Minister Gumbo.
Yesterday’s extension of vaccination to those aged 12 and over now means all in secondary school are now eligible for vaccination along with some in Grade 7, although it is far too early in the year for all in that grade to have turned 12.
Cabinet also agreed to press ahead with a vaccination blitz following the broadening of the eligible age group.
School infections are low, but the Government is very keen to make sure they stay low.
Minister Gumbo said that in the last week “145 learners in 38 schools had tested positive for Covid-19, while 11 members of staff also tested positive”.
“All the active cases detected through the schools’ surveillance system are under isolation and being managed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.”
The vaccination drive will also be part of the expanded routine childhood immunisation programme of the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
After allowing the vaccination eligibility age group to be lowered the Cabinet approved that, “the Risk Communication Subcommittee urgently met with the Expanded Programme on Immunisation unit of the Ministry of Health and Child Care and began to prepare and mobilise communities for the March to June national vaccination blitz”.
“Provincial Ministers of State and Devolution and their teams were to urgently finalise their updated vaccination strategies and micro plans for the harmonised vaccination blitz in line with the agreed timelines.”
There will also be, “strict enforcement of all Covid-19 regulations coupled with strengthened risk communication on the pandemic that must continue,” said Minister Gumbo.
Despite the progress in the vaccination campaign, the Cabinet noted that there are other areas which were not doing well in this regard.
“Of concern is the low vaccine coverage for Chitungwiza of 25.5 percent, Mashonaland East of 31.6 percent and Mashonaland West of 28.8 percent.”
Zimbabwe has assured the availability of Covid-19 vaccines through buying enough doses along with generous gifts, mainly from China, to ensure everyone willing to be immunised can benefit from the free national immunisation campaign. No one aged 12 or above need be turned away since there are adequate supplies. Herald.