HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe will begin vaccinating against COVID-19 on Thursday, starting with health workers and other essential service personnel, the cabinet announced on Tuesday.
The southern African country, which has so far reported more than 35,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,410 deaths, aims to vaccinate 60% of its nearly 16 million population in three phases.
“The vaccination programme commences on February 18, 2021, on a voluntary basis, and will be free,” the Harare government said in a statement after the cabinet meeting.
Only a handful of African nations have begun giving vaccinations as the continent scrambles to obtain supplies for its 1.3 billion people, even as many richer nations are racing ahead with mass immunisation programmes.
Zimbabwe’s first coronavirus vaccines, 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China, arrived in the capital on Monday.
Zimbabwe said it has bought a further 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine due for delivery in early March, and was aiming to procure vaccines from Russia and through the COVAX facility being coordinated by the World Health Organisation and the global vaccine alliance on behalf of poorer countries.
A new study has also confirmed that the new coronavirus strain, 501Y.V2, first detected in South Africa in December, is also now prevalent in neighbouring Zimbabwe, showing up in 61% of all COVID-19 cases, the government said.
(Reporting Nelson Banya; Editing by Tanisha Heiberg and Mark Heinrich)