Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula has warned healthcare workers who ignore scientific evidence and spread anti-vaccination messages to patients and the public will face prosecution.
“Health workers are strongly warned not to engage in such activities. Those who make themselves guilty of such violations will be dealt with in terms of applicable laws and regulations,” he said during a Covid-19 response briefing at State House on Friday.
The crackdown by government comes at a time when many Namibians are still vaccine-hesitant, which is a major threat to achieving herd immunity.
The country is targeting to vaccinate at least 1.5 million eligible Namibians or 60% of the population by 31 March 2022 to attain herd immunity. However, the growing problem of vaccine hesitancy may affect the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines.
According to Shangula, there is a low turnout at vaccination points in the Oshikoto, Oshana and Omusati regions.
“I visited vaccination sites at Outapi, Tsandi, Okahao, Oshakati and Onandjokwe. I must express my grave concern about the extremely low vaccine uptakes, especially in the Omusati region.
Of the various vaccine sites that I visited, I found no or only a few persons who had come for vaccination.
While vaccination teams were deployed at the sites, members of the public had not shown up. According to vaccination officials, the daily average of vaccines at their respective sites per day is only in two-digit figures.
This is cause for serious concern, and I wish to use this platform to call on all eligible persons to go for vaccination”, the minister stressed. So far, only 49 274 Namibians have been fully vaccinated since the campaign started in March this year, while 164 221 have received their first dose.
Shangula assured the nation that there are sufficient vaccines in the country as all vaccination sites currently have access to the Sinopharm vaccine.
“We expected to see the vaccines’ landscape diversified, with increased access to other types of vaccines,” he added. President Hage Geingob also warned Namibians not to allow vaccine skepticism to curtail the country’s efforts of reducing new infections, and thus opening up and returning to normalcy.
He emphasised that vaccination remains an important weapon in everyone’s arsenal. “I am aware of what has been called an “infodemic” of misinformation in the form of campaigns to deliberately propagate false information about Covid-19 vaccines.
Let us not be swayed by those who aim to capitalise on unfounded fears and dissuade our people from getting vaccinated. We must act wisely, act responsibly, act selflessly and act now,” Geingob stated. He, therefore, reiterated his call upon all Namibians who are eligible to get vaccinated and help save lives. Government is expecting the delivery of additional vaccines, including 302 000 Johnson & Johnson doses donated by the US government through the Covax scheme. “I am happy to inform you that the number of doses have been increased to 302 000. These doses will be delivered to Namibia through the Covax facility. We will inform the nation of the delivery date in due course,” said Shangula. He added that The Netherlands has pledged and confirmed that they will support Namibia with 75 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. “The ministry has concluded and submitted all required documents, and is expecting information on the delivery date. The consignment will greatly help Namibia vaccinate those awaiting their outstanding second doses of AstraZeneca. We are working day and night to ensure that all individuals whose second dose of vaccination is outstanding will be vaccinated as soon as the doses become available. We received communication that 9 714 of the 333 333 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine procured through the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) will be delivered during the week of 23 August 2021,” he continued.
Meanwhile, government has lifted certain strict nationwide measures imposed in June to curb the spread of Covid-19. The partial lockdown, which restricted movement between regions, has been relaxed, while public gatherings have been increased to 50 persons until 14 August. The curfew hours have also been adjusted from 22h00 to 04h00 daily. The sale of liquor on a takeaway basis will likewise be allowed between Mondays and Fridays. On-site consumption of meals is also allowed under the current dispensation. However, businesses deemed to be a high risk, such as gyms and sports clubs, remain closed.