Former health minister Dr Bernard Haufiku believes government should enhance public trust in the Covid-19 vaccination programme, including the ability to procure and distribute doses efficiently. The health ministry this week confirmed it running out of vaccine doses, with the authorities prioritising the administration of the first dose, while government awaits the arrival of ordered shots.
The disruption comes at a time when the country is experiencing sharply rising new infections and mounting deaths across the country, due to the pandemic. Cumulative confirmed cases in the country have now shot up to 88 553, 1 467 deaths and nearly 67 000 recoveries.
“We must do all we can do to ensure people understand, accept and volunteer for vaccinations across the country,” Haufiku told New Era yesterday. “But then, we have to ensure too that there is sustained and uninterrupted supply of vaccines to avoid breaking the required repeat dosage, which seems to be creeping in.”
President Hage Geingob is expected to address the nation today on government’s new response measures. According to Haufiku, the disruption in the vaccination programme affects the already low public confidence in Covid-19 vaccines.
“I personally believe [the] vaccine, not the wobbling public health measures, will be the game-changer in our national response to [the] Covid-19 pandemic, just like ARVs were the game-changers in the HIV pandemic,” he said.
In addition, Haufiku said, the most pressing issue at the moment is the lack of space for the many Namibians suffering and dying from the severe Covid-19 disease.
“Almost all hospitals in Windhoek have no more beds left in their isolation units. Even the Katutura state hospital has to temporarily suspend outpatient service and use the space as a Covid-19 admission/isolation unit. Space (beds) for those who need admission is the number one pressing challenge at the moment, followed by urgent need for delivery of oxygen to patients, not just to buildings,” he said.
Despite rising cases and deaths, vaccination centres in Windhoek have been closed since Monday, as there were simply no vaccine doses left. Only a woeful 23 662 people are fully vaccinated, while 118 154 have received the first dose.
Even though the ministry stated doses would be received by early July, executive director Ben Nangombe yesterday attempted to kick the can down the road.
“We have ordered vaccinations that we have already paid for through the Covax facility. These were supposed to come much earlier. We are told they are coming in July, but experience has taught us that these deadlines aren’t always met. And that is one of the reasons we find ourselves in the situation we are in. We have also engaged other manufactures and their agents, and we have ordered doses,” said Nangombe.
According to Nangombe, the ministry was doing everything possible to ensure vaccine doses are delivered as soon as possible.
“We are pushing very hard to have the vaccine here as early as next week. Through the Africa vaccine acquisition task force, we have signed the agreement to buy the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine, and this process has been completed. J&J initially wanted countries to put a down payment of up to 15%. Namibia was going to pay about US$350 000, non-refundable.
We were not comfortable putting down a non-refundable deposit, so we engaged the Africa Import Export Bank for a letter of credit.”
He said the to and from manner of the deal and the bureaucracy also delayed the purchase.
Meanwhile, Popular Democratic Movement leader McHenry Venaani says government should address the issue of vaccines.
“Government should draw a clear road map on how much money we have frontloaded to be able to purchase vaccines where it is needed the most because we are the worst hit country globally,” said Venaani.
“I have not seen President Hage Geingob taking up a phone, speaking to (Russian president) Putin or (US leader) Biden, speaking to leaders of the world who have the vaccines [and can] deliver. I think he is doing a very slow job in terms of international overtures to countries that have these vaccines,” he added.
Venaani also believes before the authorities impose strict measures to curb the further spread of the virus, there should be an efficient vaccine programme to help fight the pandemic and variants such as the Delta, which is expected to become a dominant strain globally.
“Closing alcohol, yes, it is a mitigating factor but without a proper vaccine process, you are losing the game. So, what is
important at the moment is vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” he said.
Economist Omu Kakujaha-Matundu said the national Covid taskforce has to do much better this time around, including balancing health and economic livelihoods.
“They relaxed the restrictions too soon, giving an impression of return to normality. We all know the economic losses that will be brought about by a hard lockdown. But weighing the cost and benefits of a hard lockdown, the benefits will outweigh the cost,” he said.
Imposing stricter measures could lead to a further economic fallout, he said. “Should this devastating trend be allowed to continue, kiss your economy goodbye. If the virus is allowed to mutate into some monster variants, opening up major economic sectors such as tourism won’t happen,” he said. He said suffering would linger longer
for the general populace.
“So, better the short-term pain for a longer-term gain. The economy is already tethering on the edge of collapse. It is now or never. Fear and indecisiveness will cost Namibia an arm and a leg.”
Earlier this month, Cabinet imposed new measures to curb the spread of the virus, which included restricting exit and entry into the Windhoek, Okahandja and Rehoboth local authority areas for two weeks.
Face-to-face teaching and learning for primary, secondary schools and higher education institutions, including technical education providers in affected areas, has also been suspended until 30 June.
Gatherings have been limited to 10 people, the sale and purchase of alcohol from shebeens and bars was restricted from 09h00 to 18h00, Monday to Saturday, on take-away basis only.