Almost everyone who has visited vaccination centres to receive a jab can testify to the sheer appalling nature of how the Ministry of Health and Wellness is failing to properly manage the roll-out plan. This is explained in large measure by the poor messaging conduct to the public. which changes at the blink of an eye. Some have opined that the overall shambolic nature of the roll-out plan together with how other aspects of the pandemic have been handled is created by the two centres of power between the ministry on one hand and the Presidential Covid-19 Task Force on the other. This view could very well be explained by the launch of a multimillion pula wasteful Arm Ready campaign.
Scientists across the broad spectrum of fighting Covid-19 pandemic concur that vaccine roll-out is one of the best ways to contain the virus. The more people get vaccinated, the less numbers in the majority of people getting seriously ill to require hospitalisation for specialised healthcare. Further, receiving a jab protects people with increased risk for severe illness, should they contract the virus. With Botswana receiving the first batch of about 24 000 doses at the end of March 2021, fairly enough time to comprehensively plan the vaccine roll-out plan had been created. During one of the televised Covid-19 programmes, the ministry was specifically asked whether it was prepared to roll-out vaccination. Almost boastfully, it said it had rolled-out vaccinations during other pandemics and with no noticeable glitches. The import of this was that Covid-19 vaccine roll-out will run virtually. But here we are. The vaccination process, as it unfolds everyday, is a sorry spectacle to watch even for the bravest of people.
A comprehensive vaccine roll-out plan would have been put in place in terms of logistical and administrative arrangements. This in my view would include but not limited to: ensuring that vaccines are certified quickly by BOMRA as soon as they arrive; that they are quickly dispatched to all vaccination centres; that the vaccination process is undertaken even during weekends in an effort to capture as many numbers as possible; that enough staff is put in place to ensure an almost seamless vaccination process. The current unfolding shambolic incidents indicate something horribly wrong with a badly crafted plan. Not very long ago, the ministry announced that vaccination would proceed during weekends. The very next day, the same ministry announced postponement. One would have expected the ministry to have ensured their vaccine stock is replenished enough to cater for the weekends. By any account, a properly coordinated plan wouldn’t have allowed this sorry state to occur.
The situation where those who were vaccinated with Astrazeneca as the first dose and had to wait an overly long period to get the second is shocking. It is unacceptable and almost treasonous that the whole ministry capacitated with highly educated scientists would have not ensured that other doses are reserved for the second jab. In fact, one doesn’t have to be a scientist to have ensured that doses for the second jab were reserved. The excuse by the ministry to say it is still learning about Covid-19 virus hence the failure to reserve doses for the second jab amounts to dereliction of duty. It has become a predictable escape route when failures occur. The ministry was quick to inform the nation that vaccinations would commence for those waiting for the second jab of Sinovac vaccine and those who would be vaccinated with vaccines that arrived recently.
People answered the call by flocking to vaccination centres, some queuing from as early as 0300hrs, only to be turned away because the small target for the day had long been surpassed. In the process, a stampede ensued turning the same vaccination centres into super spreader locations. Caught on the back foot as it has become the norm, the MoHW was slow to share information about which vaccines were available at which vaccination centres. Why was information on where particular recipients for particular vaccines was not shared earlier to avoid panic and anxiety? Sheer incompetence by the MoHW is the only logical answer.
Vaccination of frontline workers like doctors and nurses was announced at the beginning. But it appeared to be lip service more than anything else. To date, nurses still complain about lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a mandatory safety requirement given that they come into contact with Covid-19 patients for long periods. Nurses and doctors have not been given priority to be vaccinated ahead of other people. One cannot help but shudder to imagine how nurses and doctors feel about administering vaccines to the public when they are not vaccinated. Surely they must be depressed! Teachers, just like nurses and doctors, face large numbers of their customers in terms of students and patients. Feeling somewhat neglected, teachers resolved that ‘no vaccine, no classes’ where they refused to go back to classes until they were vaccinated. Indeed teachers have since been prioritised to for vaccination. One hopes this is not the usual publicity stunt as it has become the government’s modus operandi.
Teachers who have already succumbed to Covid-19 virus (estimated to about 100) may have been saved, had they been vaccinated. The same goes for nurses whose number is said to be about 30 at the latest count. Botswana Nurses Union says as at 31 July 2021, only 20% of nurses had been vaccinated and that contracts of those temporarily employed expired in March and were not extended. This inevitably leaves the nursing fraternity thin on the ground. Why were contracts not extended given the immense value temporary nurses add to the overall value chain of the vaccination process? Your guess is as good as mine.
With the above in mind, it fair and reasonable to argue that the Ministry of Health and Wellness vaccine roll-out plan has been shambolic from the minute it was crafted. The fact that its shambolic nature unfolds right under the nation’s watch every day and night suggests it will continue into the future. To be fair to the ministry, glitches of one kind or the other were bound to happen. But not in this massive scale. Given that the vaccination roll-out is in a mess, I am inclined to be attracted to the view that even if Botswana had 4 million doses of vaccines at this point in time, it would take a miracle of epic proportions to vaccinate all eligible people within a short period of time. The current situation all but confirms this view. In the meantime, Covid-19 numbers will not be contained at minimum-the situation we desperately require. Someone must stand to be counted to ensure that this shambolic situation is brought to the end, forthwith.