By Joel Mandaza
Zimbabwe is on the verge of losing the 35 000 Covaxin vaccines it received from India to expiration, as health centres are yet to start rolling them out.
Most Zimbabweans who have been vaccinated so far received the Sinopharm Vaccine, followed by Sinovac, while Covaxin is yet to be administered.
Reports are the priority groups that are currently being given the doses prefer Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines which have not had an incident of adverse effects to date.
Zimbabwe received 35 000 doses of the vaccine, which will expire in the next few weeks.
This has sent the Ministry of Health and Child Care into panic, as it tries to expedite the dispensing of the Indian vaccine.
Public health institutions have been administering only Sinovac and Sinopharm, amid suggestions that health workers are not confident about Covaxin.
India, where the Covaxin vaccine comes from is currently battling a violent Covid-19 wave, which has seen daily cases top 400 000, almost the number of all Zimbabweans vaccinated to date.
Despite being the first African country to approve use of Covaxin, authorities are worried about the delayed administering of the vaccine and they are now considering giving the Indian community their vaccine.
Almost two months after receiving the vaccine, government is now pushing for the Indian community in Zimbabwe to be given the vaccine.
In a letter to health care providers, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Jasper Chimedza instructed that members of the Indian community should be given the indigenous vaccine, which has been seen to have 81 percent efficacy.
“On the same note preference for Covaxin should be given to the Indian community, but not limited to them as it should benefit all citizens.
PLEASE NOTE: The expiry date for Covaxin is June 2021, Sinopharm February 2023 and Sinovac February/March 2024. So let’s make sure that Covaxin is administered before it expires to avoid wastage. Please be guided accordingly,” wrote Permanent Secretary Chimedza.
The skepticism in the country`s medical corridors are shared, by other jurisdictions.
Other African countries, despite being desperate for a vaccine are not willing to join Zimbabwe in giving its citizens the Covaxin produced by Bharat Biotech International.
Last month, Brazilian medicines regulator Anvisa blocked the importation of Covaxin citing that the vaccine did not satisfy the requisite safety standards.
“Considering the non-compliance with the requirements of Good Manufacturing Practices for Medicines, or the non-compliance with the petition procedures submitted for analysis, advocated by current legislation, resolves: Refuse the Request (s) for Certification of Good Manufacturing Practices for Medicines of the company (ies) contained in the ANNEX,” Brazilian authorities wrote in a gazette.
Among the issues raised was that the vaccine is supposed to have a disabled virus, however, Brazilian authorities reported that the SARS-CoV-2 viruses may be present in the vaccine.
Covaxin manufacturers were also accused of not taking necessary precautions to guarantee the product`s sterility and safety.
Even within India, questions have been asked of the safety of the Covaxin vaccine.
When the vaccine was approved, India’s All India Drug Network, raised questions of the processes which preceded the emergency use of the vaccine in India.
They described the process as rushed and claimed that the data was not peer-reviewed.
The British Medical Journal also gave a similar indictment on the Covaxin.
“The hospital at which the trial took place, the People’s College of Medical Sciences and Research Centre in Bhopal, has been accused of not following proper procedures while screening candidates for the trials,” wrote the British Medical Journal.
Perhaps this global scrutiny is the reason why there has been a low uptake of the Covaxin even in India itself.
The vaccine is failing to gain ground against its main competitor Covishield.
A report in March showed that as a matter of percentage Covaxin only had 8 percent of the total number of the dispensed vaccine.
Zimbabwean health workers remain coy to try out the new vaccine in the face of Chinese vaccines which have proven to work and do not have known side effects.
It remains to be seen whether the directive by the government will yield progress or the donation will go to waste.
Luckily for Zimbabwe it did not purchase the Covaxin vaccine which is being sold to governments for US$8 per does, two times more than AstraZeneca which is charging its vaccines at US$4.
If Zimbabwe loses the total donation to expiration, it would have lost a total value of US$280 000.