With only 7% fully vaccinated by 9th July 2021, the target of vaccinating 80% of the adult population by the end of March 2022 appears unachievable at the current rate. In the week in which the vaccination programe was extended to age group 45-54 years, the Minister of Health and Wellness (MoHW), Dr Edwin Dikoloti, fields questions from STAFF WRITER DITIRO MOTLHABANE regarding Covid19 vaccination rollout and the state of public emergency (SoPE).
Q: Is is true that with advice from MoHW and the Covid19 Presidential Task Force, President Mokgweetsi Masisi is planning to ask the current session of Parliament to extend the SoPE by a further six months to 2022?
MoHW: The current State of Public Emergency (SoPE) meant to help the country fight the COVID-19 pandemic ends in September 2021. Together with the COVID-19 Presidential Task Team, the Ministry has been active in public education, procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination of those eligible. A decision to advise for or against the extension of the current SoPE has as of now, not been made.
Q: In your view have we (Botswana) achieved what we set out to do since the onset of SoPE last year?
MoHW: The Ministry believes that tremendous strides have been made in fighting this pandemic. Since the SoPE was extended on 1 April 2021, restrictions in movements, public and social meetings and the aggressive public education on COVID-19 that was conducted, the Ministry believes that Batswana and residents of this country, are now in a better position to protect themselves and others from the spread of this disease. Restrictions in movements and gatherings in particular helped curb potentially explosive surges in infections across COVID-19 zones that have been set.
Q: What is the target for the ongoing vaccination rollout i.e. when does Botswana hope to have vaccinated enough numbers to acquire herd immunity to start opening up the economy?
MoHW: The target for the ongoing vaccination roll out is Phase one of the National Vaccine Deployment Plan which covers adults aged 55 and above. We anticipate to have reached about 80% of this category by end of July 2021 after which the roll out program will transit to Phase two of the National Vaccine Deployment Plan,which targets adults aged 30 to 54.
As at Friday 9 July 2021, 161,426 people had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine with 106 337 having been fully vaccinated. This amounts to 7% of those who have been fully vaccinated. The target is to reach 80% of the adult population aged 18 and above by the end of March 2022. This can however, be possible if vaccines are available. Decisions on which measures can be relaxed will be made from time to time on the basis of progress made in vaccinations and rate of infections in the country and globally.
Q: When is Botswana expecting to receive the next batch of vaccines? How many doses of which vaccine and from where?
MoHW: Botswana is currently expecting to receive some vaccines before the end of July 2021 and another batch in August 2021. As has happened with all our other consignments that have been received, the suppliers only inform us of the exact dates and quantities when they are just about to dispatch such consignments. As of now however, the suppliers have confirmed that deliveries will be in July and also in August 2021. Vaccines have been procured through COVAX and Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) facilities,as well as through bilateral arrangements.
Q: What have been the major milestones and/ or challenges in the battle against Covid19?
MoHW: Some of the major milestones relate to the structures that have been put in place to manage disease infections across the country like the division of the country into zones. Strengthening of national and district planning and delivery structures to address all issues related to COVID-19, was another major achievement to contain the disease in all areas. This has helped manage infections or surges in infections in the areas where such surges have occurred.
This battle however,has not been without challenges.
Initially it has been difficult to procure Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) needed for all our front liners. Secondly, while the issue of PPEs is now better, there are challenges relating to procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. This has been more difficult for developing countries like Botswana. As a result, with only 7% of people who have been fully vaccinated, Botswana is regarded as one of the countries that have done well in Africa in terms of progress in vaccination. Yet we remain unsatisfied with this progress because the intention is to have up to 80% of our adult population vaccinated. Procurement for various vaccines have been made and mostly paid for, but delivery remains a challenge, owing to high global demand for the vaccines which has now outstripped supply.
Any other comment on these issues.
MoHW: We would like to encourage the public to continue strictly observing all COVID-19 protocols. We encourage them not to tire because if they do so, the infections will spread to uncontrollable levels. It is only through observance of these protocols that we will eventually triumph. The Government will in the meantime, do all it can to procure vaccines in order to help people develop immunity against COVID-19.