Botswana has No vaccination strategy yet
Health experts doubt efficacy of Indian vaccine
Teachers are putting pressure on government demanding that they be included in the first phase of the just donated Indian Covidshied vaccine rollout, as they are affected more than health workers.
By the end of the week, 24 teachers (excluding students and support staff) had succumbed to the deadly respiratory disease in just a period of two weeks, a joint release from a research compiled by Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) and Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) revealed on Thursday. Secretary Generals of the two teacher trade unions Agang Gabana and Tobokani Rari said the unions met with Ministry of Basic Education and Covid-19 Task Force early this week demanding that teachers be priorited.
The two unions said they noted that comparatively, COVID-19 related deaths in the teaching sector, according to their analysis, far surpasses any such deaths in any of the frontline workers. “On the issue of prioritizing teachers in the rollout plan of the COVID-19 vaccine, the National COVID Task Force team could not commit itself indicating that the prioritization would be done taking into consideration some various factors. The COVID-19 National Team Representatives however indicated that the views raised by the unions would be considered,” they said.
The unions further proposed that in the view of escalating rate of positive cases in schools and the consequent deaths, the re-opening of Form 4s should be halted pending vaccine rollout. According to Rari and Gabana, the Ministry of Basic Education’s position was that they are still engaging the ministry of health to determine possibility of all form 4s to be tested before they open.
On Tuesday,Botswana received the Covidshied vaccine which is expected to be rolled out with the first phase covering the frontline who amongst others include health workers. India donated 30 000 doses of vaccine to Botswana in quest to boost its fight against pandemic. The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has licenced the vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University, markets it as Covishield for low-and middle-income countries.
The minister of Health and Wellness Dr Edwin Dikoloti has since told the nation that plans are underway to ensure that there is effectiveness in rolling out the vaccine,confident that health authorities are ready. On the sidelines of Indian vaccine arrival, Dr Dikoloti told journalists that Botswana Medicines Regulatory Authority (BOMRA) will test the efficacy of the vaccine before it is rolled out.
Meanwhile, almost a week after the vaccine arrived in Botswana, government had not finalised a vaccination rollout strategy while health workers wait hopelessly. In an interview late Friday, the president of Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) Obonolo Rahube confirmed that government had not started the rollout, noting that they await the strategy to advise their members accordingly.
Rahube said the union leadership met with Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Kabelo Ebineng on Thursday for a consultative meeting regarding vaccination. He however said he was not in position to divulge more details to the media over the consultations.
Unimpressed, Secretary General of the Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) who also represent nurses and other affiliated frontline workers, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa blasted government for delays in the rollout of vaccines. He lamented that it is regrettable that Botswana government has opted for donations of questionable vaccines like AstraZeneca right in the middle of a brutal pandemic that is ravaging the population, with health workers being the most exposed.
“Our expectation is that government should be getting vaccines from its account and not donations of vaccine of questionable efficacy. For security reasons, we are not comfortable with the vaccine and we don’t know about its efficacy in our Covid-19 situation. Government must be serious,” fumed Motshegwa, revealing that the union will be embarking on robust educational drive to sensitize health workers about the suspicious Indian vaccination that will soon be rolled out.
A Family Medicine and Public Health lecturer from the University of Botswana (UB) School of Medicine who pleaded not to be named said the AstraZeneca vaccine efficacy is a big problem. “Our vaccination rollout programme is lacking clear vision and targets. The Indian vaccine yes it is a welcome development but the problem now is its efficacy based on the fact that it vaccine of AstraZeneca. Just this week European countries like Italy banned AstraZeneca vaccine,” he added.
He also said the Ministry of Health and Wellness is economical with the truth when it says 73% of the population accepted to take the vaccines, adding that currently government is in total confusion. “Our vaccination rollout is surrounded by a lot of uncertainties. My concern is that the relevant health authorities such as BOMRA have not been conducting any studies on the efficacy of all the vaccines that are anticipated to be brought here. Our rollout is still far-fetched dream,” he said.
Government is racing against time to procure vaccines to arrest the increasing Covid-19 cases which had flared past 424 deaths by Thursday evening. Botswana has recorded a total of 31 719 cases with 28 882 recovering and 2 413 still active cases.Briefing the nation recently, the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi said the first Covid-19 vaccines consignment procured through the COVAX facility among others will arrive by end of this month.
South Africa chickened out of using the AstraZeneca and its related vaccines after it emerged out that it offered lower protection to the new detected South African variant which is more deadly. In turn, the country which has been the most hit in the Southern Africa region moved swiftly to acquire the Johnson and Johnson vaccine which by so far its efficacy has been proved to be 100%.
Research has indicated that unlike the AstraZeneca vaccines that South Africa has got first, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine proved it can work effectively against South Africa’s new variant.