While Bulawayo is doing comparatively better with the Covid-19 vaccination programme than other places in Zimbabwe, local health officials are reporting a lull in demand as the city tries to reach herd immunity.
Health officials suspect the reason for the slowdown is that citizens no longer have the fear they experienced when the city was hit hard by the third wave of Covid-19.
With Covid-19 vaccination having been extended to children between the ages of 16 to 17, Bulawayo’s target is to vaccinate 495 564 people.
So far, 233 555 people have received both their Covid-19 doses.
“So we think if we get a fourth wave, which we don’t pray or hope for, people may then come forward and get vaccinated but as long as people are not afraid of anything, fear is universal emotion, so as a result people will not turn up. That is our suspicion, that people will not turn up if they are not afraid of anything because they will say, ‘I survived the first, second, third wave and I’m not vaccinated, why should I vaccinate now?’”
Dr Sibanda noted that with any vaccination programme, it would be doing ‘very’ well to exceed a 85 percent uptake even amongst the babies who probably have no choice but were vaccinated by parents who felt obliged.
“These vaccines have been around for a long time. They are efficacious, effective and safe but still with coverages of 85 percent we still get breakthrough infections. Unfortunately with Covid-19 there is too much choice and amongst adults who are not in themselves fairly uniform, in terms of behaviour or homogenous so there are others who are daredevils by nature, so we have that challenge, unfortunately,” he said.
The health director said with the addition of the 16 to 17 year age group, the city’s vaccination coverage was lowered from what was done before.
“Our target is 495 564. Once we increase the dominator, it means that the output comes down with dose one coverage. Now we are using the new revised target. For dose 1, we have vaccinated 263 202, which translates to 53.1 percent of the new target, which is just below seven percent to reach 60 percent for herd immunity,” he said.
“For dose 2, we have vaccinated 233 555, which comes down to 47.1 percent, 13 percent remains to reach 60 percent herd immunity. We may reach the target probably when uptake among the 16 to 17 year olds age group is good. Generally, the plan is we clear off the 16 and 17 year olds then see who remains behind unvaccinated.”
Dr Sibanda said from November 15, health workers started going to schools, where the bulk of the 16 and 17-year-olds were found.
“We are vaccinating them with the assistance of some partners -Organisation for Public Health Initiatives and Development, commonly known as OPHID supporting some of the activities there. We also have our own teams and I think we are making progress,” he said.
As of November 17, Bulawayo has 44 active cases, with 10 of those recorded on the day, said Dr Sibanda.
“Bulawayo has a total of 13 368 Covid-19 cases and total recoveries of 12 587, with five recoveries recorded on the day.”