Zimbabweans have welcomed the deployment of the oral cholera vaccine which began yesterday in various districts in Harare, Manicaland and Masvingo provinces.
The vaccination campaign, which is targeting 2,3 million people from the age of one year, is expected to improve the immunity of those who receive it thereby reducing the number of new infections.
Speaking during the launch of the vaccination campaign at Kuwadzana Polyclinic yesterday, residents said they were eager to get vaccinated and protect themselves and their families.
Said Mr Cuthbert Samungeni from Kuwadzana 1: “It is important that we get this vaccination because as we have been told by our health workers, it will protect us and everyone else in the community. I just got my vaccination and I will encourage others in my family and community to also come so that we will not be affected by cholera.”
“I am happy that I got a chance to get vaccinated today. I am one of those who lost a relative to this disease and I believe it was a good move to get vaccinated so that I can be protected,” said Ms Chido Mutasa.
Gogo Maria Rupiya said she and her whole family had taken the vaccine and she would continue to encourage her neighbours to also do the same.
“We are thankful to the Government for launching this programme. As residents, we have been affected severely by this disease and we have lost some of our neighbours. I hope everyone will get this vaccine so that we can all be safe,” she said.
Another resident, Ms Shylet Mhaka from Kuwadzana 3, said she had been sceptical about vaccines at first but after seeing how it had affected some of her neighbours, she was now ready to get it.
“This cholera outbreak has really affected us, many of our neighbours have been infected and I saw how serious it was. I realise now that vaccines can save lives and I will be getting mine as soon as the health workers bring it to us,” she said.
Community health workers, who have been part of the cholera response, said communities had already been educated and were ready to get the vaccines.
“I work in Kuwadzana 3 and this area was one of the most affected by the cholera outbreak. We have been working hard to convince the people to get to the clinic early whenever they have diarrhoea so that they can get treatment. We are happy that this vaccine is now here and the rest of the population will be protected. Today we went around educating them about the vaccine and also giving them the vaccine. We even went into the schools and I am happy that it went well. It was accepted,” said Mrs Patricia Chiwewete, a community health worker.
Zimbabwe was allocated the vaccines by the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision with support from the WHO and UNICEF. The vaccines were funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance through the International Coordinating Group (ICG).
The vaccination campaign, which is being carried out on a house-to-house and cluster-to-cluster basis, will reach 2,3 million people living in 160 wards within 26 districts high risk districts in Harare, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, Manicaland, Masvingo and Midlands. These districts are considered the main drivers for the outbreak.
While the cholera vaccine provides additional protection against infections, it does not replace the other cholera prevention measures, that include regular hand washing, drinking treated or boiled water, safe disposal of solid, liquid and human waste, and observing food hygiene standards.
Health and Child Care Minister Dr Douglas Mombeshora, in a speech read on his behalf by Minister of State for Harare Provincial Affairs Charles Tavengwa, said the vaccination campaign represented a critical step forward in intensifying the collective efforts to eliminate the cholera scourge.
“The Oral Cholera Vaccine (OCV) that we are rolling out today is taken by mouth and is a safe and effective tool that can significantly reduce the risk of contracting cholera. The success of this campaign hinges on the active participation of every Zimbabwean. I urge all eligible individuals in the targeted districts and wards, from children to adults, to get vaccinated. It is a simple act that can save your life and protect your loved ones and your community. In the same spirit we request all community leaders and school authorities from respective targeted areas in collaboration with our health teams to ensure that all eligible people are vaccinated for us to achieve herd immunity and control cholera,” he said.
He said cholera vaccines were a known and effective public health intervention for cholera control that was coming in to complement existing measures and investments that the government had already implemented.
Zimbabwe rolled out its first oral cholera vaccination campaign in 2018 and 2019 after the cholera outbreak which affected more than 10 000 people and claimed 69 lives.
The current outbreak has surpassed this mark, with 21 230 cases and 405 deaths being reported since its onset in February last year.
Word Health Organisation representative to Zimbabwe Dr Jean Marie Dangou reassured the nation that the vaccine was safe and effective.
“To the communities receiving these vaccines, I urge you to embrace this opportunity, get vaccinated and ensure your family members, friends and loved ones are vaccinated. Learn about personal hygiene practices and work together to keep your communities safe.
“I remind all of us that oral cholera vaccines provide critical immunity, protecting individuals and communities from devastating consequences of cholera outbreak. By vaccinating a significant portion of the population, we can create herd immunity, effectively breaking the cycle of transmission and preventing future outbreaks,” he said.
He said the WHO continued to emphasise that these vaccines were simply an additional tool to fight the outbreak and investment in water and sanitation infrastructure and increased waste management were still needed.
UNICEF country representative Dr Tajudeen Oyewale said the vaccine would be pivotal in protecting women and children as they accounted for more than half of all cholera cases reported in the country.
“It is important that we all rally together to ensure high quality coverage of this vaccination. Let me remind everyone that in 2018/2019 Zimbabwe did roll out the same vaccine and it worked. As such, we are confident that this current vaccination will contribute a lot towards reducing new infections and I look forward to working with all actors including health workers and those in the community for a successful result,” he said.