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Zimbabwe renews COVID vaccination drive, targets schoolchildren

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (AP) – Zimbabwe has launched a new COVID-19 vaccination campaign that includes jabbing children aged 12 and above to rescue a drive faltering due to vaccine hesitancy and complacency.

This week, schools in the southern African country have become vaccination zones with children in school uniforms lining up to get the injections.

Many parents said they support the vaccination drive to prevent schools from becoming centres of infection, although others remain sceptical.

“Let them get vaccinated, it will save us a lot of trouble. Maybe it will stop the constant closures of schools… the online lessons drain us each time the schools are closed,” said a parent, Helen Dube, walking her 12-year-old daughter to a school in the crowded Chitungwiza town, about 30 kilometres southeast of the capital, Harare.

“Plus, if schools are safe then we are also safe at home,” she said, referring to instances when schools have become centres of virus infection.

A child receives his COVID-19 vaccine. PHOTO: AP

Zimbabwe is gradually returning to its normal school calendar after two years of intermittent and sometimes prolonged closures due to waves of COVID-19 cases.

Adults are also being targetted in the vaccination campaign which will run until mid-May, according to Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the country’s health minister.

Zimababwe was one of the first African countries to give shots of COVID-19 vaccines, achieving higher rates than much of the continent.

About 23 per cent of Zimbabwe’s 15 million people have received two jabs, mostly of the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, far short of the government’s initial target of 60 per cent by the end of 2021. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government now says it is trying to

reach a goal of 70 per cent of the eligible population by the end of July.

Just over 5,400 people in Zimbabwe have died from COVID-19, according to official figures, although the toll is likely much higher because of undiagnosed or reported cases, according to health experts.

The government said it has enough vaccine doses, including for booster jabs, but uptake has slowed in recent months as the number of cases and fatalities have slowed. Just over eight million doses have been used out of more than 22 million in stock, according to government figures.

After experiencing difficulties in getting adequate supplies of vaccines, many African countries are now making concerted efforts to get shots into arms.

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