President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the weekend implied that the government will make vaccination compulsory in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, but experts have warned that the edict, if enforced, would be in violation of human rights.
Speaking at the graduation of 1 200 prison officers in Ntabazinduna near Bulawayo on Saturday, Mnangagwa said no one had the right to refuse the jab.
Mnangagwa has previously said people who have not been vaccinated would be denied access to some public services in future and critics took his latest utterances to mean that he will impose compulsory vaccination.
“I urge all officers, graduates to take the injection. No-one can refuse,” Mnangagwa said.
The southern African country launched its vaccination programme in February this year and to date, 747 330 people have received their first jab and 502 178 the second dose by June 26.
But Zimbabwe like most African States, is facing an acute shortage of vaccines at a time when it is in the grip of a devastating third wave of COVID-19 being driven by deadly Indian and South African variants.
The latest Health ministry statistics reveal that the country experienced four deaths on Saturday and 801 new infections.
The country is expecting 2,5 million vaccines from China in the next few days and Mnangagwa sought to assure the nation that everyone will have to be vaccinated.
“The government will continue to ensure the availability of vaccines,” he said, adding that 500 000 doses were expected yesterday (Sunday).
“So no one will escape being injected,” Mnangagwa added.
But Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said even in a crisis situation like COVID-19, governments must respect human rights and should not force people to be vaccinated as this would create resistance.
Instead, he said, the government should increase vaccine literacy and awareness and also desist from bringing politics into the acquisition of vaccines. The government has so far approved Chinese vaccines Sinovac and Sinopharm, Russian jab Sputnik V, and India’s Covaxin.
“What is important is for government to scale up information dissemination and convince the general public to appreciate why they need to be vaccinated because taking up vaccines should be done willingly by people with COVID-19 vaccine literacy,” Rusike said.
“Force-marching people to take vaccines will not result in high uptake, but in resistance and by imposing vaccines, the country may lose its vaccination programme gains where it is considered highly by other countries in the region.
“Threatening people by saying it will be compulsory will infringe on their human rights and it does not make sense to do so when the country does not have adequate vaccines in Bulawayo and Harare at the moment and there are several people who got their first jab, but are failing to get the second dose,” he said.
Rusike said Mnangagwa could only achieve inoculation of at least 60% of the population (approximately 10 million people) if the country embraced the Covax facility and used its budget surplus to procure more vaccines.
“The 500 000 vaccines to be delivered can only benefit 250 000 people because two doses are needed. What we are seeing is the Look East preference on vaccines, where China, Russia and India are the only countries where we are getting vaccines. It looks like politics is playing its part. We also need information on where the US$100 million war chest that Finance minister Mthuli Ncube claimed was available for vaccines came from because the 2021 budget was done and we need to know the sources of the funds,” Rusike
He said in the rural areas, people were walking more than 30km to access health services, and force marching them to get COVID-19 vaccines would be difficult.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa said while Mnangagwa’s utterances could be well-meaning, force-marching people to get vaccinated was an infringement of human rights.
“Mnangagwa was just trying to relay the message that it is important for everyone to get vaccinated. It is unfortunate but people cannot be forced to take vaccines as everyone has their own rights. If really government compels people to get vaccinated, then I foresee heaps of litigation papers in a short time,” Marisa said. NewsDay