With vaccination increasingly becoming mandatory some youths in Matabeleland say without access to formal spaces, they are not under pressure to get vaccinated.
It looked like a far-fetched wish, if not a joke when President Emmerson Mnangagwa hinted at mandatory vaccination. “You won’t be forced to be vaccinated….but there will come a time, if you are not vaccinated you will not be able to get a job,” Mnangagwa said in February in Nyamandlovu during the commissioning of the Gwayi-Shangani dam pipeline. “If you are not vaccinated you will not be able to board a Zupco bus. Eventually, you will have to decide for yourself,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa said.
In July, the government sanctioned unvaccinated civil servants from work, denying them special COVID-19 allowances while denying them access to subsidised Zupco transport to state employees. The government has been moving towards mandatory COVID-19 vaccination as panic sets in over soaring COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
However, unemployed 29-year-old Arthur Chimombe of Bulawayo is unmoved. “In any case, the sanctions on the unvaccinated civil servants do not affect me. I am unemployed, and have not received any support from the government; financial or otherwise,” Chimombe says. Chimombe says his decision to vaccinate or not is not going to be influenced by what seemingly looks like mandatory COVID-19 vaccination, but by his desire to save himself from infection.
The country is currently under an extended Level 4 lockdown. To date, a total of 2 091 550 people have received their first COVID-19 vaccine while 1 254 206 have received their second dose. As of Wednesday, August 18, a total of 132 218 Bulawayo residents had received their second COVID-19 dose with 189 559 still to have their last jab.
Bulawayo targets to vaccinate about 400 000 residents from an estimated population of 1.5 million people to achieve herd immunity. All 19 Bulawayo City Council (BCC) clinics and central hospitals have been turned into vaccination centres.
BCC health services director, Edwin Sibanda, says the council has no ready aggregated statistics on the number of youth, employed and unemployed who have been vaccinated. “We are seeing all ages but, of course, the uptake is not as good as we expected,” Sibanda says.
“We will then have to look at the statistics to then analyse them and see from which age group we are seeing more numbers. We still have to start comparing the quality and quantities of the uptake to understand the picture.”
Last week, the government announced the re-opening of Churches but only to the vaccinated to boost the vaccination drive. Many state-owned and private companies such as Tel-One, Seed Co Zimbabwe and some media houses have also followed suit in ‘forcing’ their employees to get jabbed.
Statistics from Matabeleland North and South also indicate a slow uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Matabeleland North, 76 536 people had taken their first and second doses with 156 466 having received only a single dose as of August 18.
“There is low uptake generally as a result of the information gap. In Lupane, there are so many challenges limiting uptake that include distances involved,” says Zibusiso Moyo, the programmes officer for the Lupane Development Trust, a youth-based organisation.
“The command structure by the government to force an increase in uptake does not incentivize rural folks as they seldom rely on government services such as Zupco buses, government employment opportunities and so forth. Their livelihoods are detached from these services,” says Moyo.
In Matabeleland South, 107 861 and 60 435 people are reported to have taken their first and second doses respectively. The Community Youth Development Trust (CYDT), a Matabeleland South youth civic group in its 13 August weekly digest argues “there is need for massive vaccination awareness raising as well as decentralisation of more vaccine centres to reach out to all rural communities in the province.”
In Bulawayo, private health institutions such as Ekusileni Medical Centre, CIMAS and MASCA have also been roped in to speed up vaccination. Private institutions do not jab for free but for about ZWL$500. Despite an increase in vaccination centres, the city is far from reaching herd immunity.
“Unless maybe when they (authorities) say that they will consider the vaccinated for loans to boost our businesses as an incentive (to vaccinate); then I will quickly join the queue,” says Arthur Moyo, who sells vegetables at the busy Fifth Avenue fresh farm produce market.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin