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Thousands go for vaccination

Doses running out quickly

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SAFE FOR NOW—A woman gets her dose at Bwaila Hospital

By Patience Lunda, Gary Samati, Mathews Kasanda & Jarson Malowa:

People turned up in droves in vaccination centres Monday, when health officials started administering Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses that arrived on Saturday.

At least 192,000 doses of the vaccine arrived through Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe, thanks to the United Nations Children’s Fund and the government of France.

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In Mzimba District and Mzuzu City, thousands of people defied chilly weather to patronise Covid vaccination centres to get either a first or second jab.

In Mzimba North, long lines of people anxious to have their turn characterised the day while, as of 10am, at least 300 people had received a dose of the vaccine at Mzuzu Central Hospital and about 200 people at Mzuzu Health Centre.

Mzuzu Central Hospital Vaccine Coordinator Monalisa Tembo said demand for the vaccine had gone up, which has resulted in congestion at the hospital.

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She said the vaccines are not enough to cater for the population because many people did not receive the second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine by the time it ran out a month ago.

“Many people have realised the need to get vaccinated and most of them are receiving their second dose. We have also been battling with congestion because many people have flocked to vaccination centres to receive the vaccine,” Tembo said.

Mzimba District has been given a total of 18, 300 doses, out of which 14,500 are for Mzimba North while 3,800 doses have been earmarked for Mzimba South.

In Blantyre, people turned up in large numbers to receive the Covid vaccine jab.

According to a memo earlier issued by Blantyre District Health Office, the vaccines are targeted at those who received their first dose, and 12 weeks or more have elapsed since, as well as those that are willing to receive their first jab.

Long queues, in centres such as Gateway and Blantyre Youth Centre, forced some service seekers to suggest that Ministry of Health officials should prioritise those who received the first jab.

“We might be wrong, or we might be right, but most people who got the first jab do not want to miss the window required for them to get their second jab. Maybe they need to be prioritised and health officials can only include the elderly and those with underlying health issues to receive it for the first time,” Mercy Chuma said.

Malawi Health Equity Network Executive Director George Jobe said there was sense in the suggestion that those that got the first dose should be prioritised.

“Surely, those that got the first jab would want to complete the dosage,” he said.

However, Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said the ministry’s position was that Covid vaccines would be given to both those receiving it for the first time and those who got the first jab.

“We are aware of the number of people that are due to receive their second jab. A lot of them are supposed to receive their second dosage but it would be unethical to stop someone from getting the vaccine just so we can give the jab to strictly those that received the first dose.

“The most important thing is that people who received the first dose are lining up in numbers to get the jab. Nonetheless, we, as a ministry, are trying our best to bring more vaccines so that they can be accessible to more people,” she said.

In the old capital of Zomba, scores of people lined up as early as 7am to get either the first or second jab of Covid vaccine.

Surprisingly, even people from rural areas flocked to Covid vaccination centres.

Zomba District Health Office spokesperson Arnold M’ndalira said, due to huge demand, their allocation of Covid vaccines would be exhausted within three days.

“We registered good turn-up on the first day. Even in rural areas, people flocked to vaccination centres in large numbers. We expect to consume all doses we got within three days. As at now, some facilities have already exhausted their allocated doses,” M’ndalira said.

He described as “encouraging” the fact that those in rural areas were getting inoculated for Covid.

“This is because we registered more cases of death in rural areas [than urban areas]. As such, it is encouraging that people from all parts of Zomba have seen sense in getting vaccinated,” he said.

In the capital, Lilongwe, long queues and scrambles for vaccine jabs characterised what was a busy day for both healthcare workers and service users.

Visits to centres, including Lilongwe City Mall and Bwaila Hospital, revealed that people braced cold weather to get vaccinated.

“It’s a second jab and I think it is necessary in order for us to be protected from Covid,” said Mwai Chiumbudzo, who got his jab at Bwaila Hospital.

Good turnout prompted Malawi Interfaith Aids Association (Miaa) to laud the government for sourcing the vaccine.

Miaa Executive Director Pilira Ndaferankhande, however, said those looking for the second jab should be priotised.

“We are not rejecting the proposal from the government to put people who have underlying health conditions on the priority list. However, what we want is that, in addition to those with underlying health conditions, people who got the first jab should also be a priority.

According to Secretary for Health Dr Charles Mwansambo, doses that came on Saturday were supposed to arrive on July 15 but failed due to logistical challenges.

Malawi has added Johnson & Johnson to the list of its earmarked vaccines, with Mwansambo indicating that Johnson & Johnson vaccines would arrive this week.

According to the ministry, other doses of Oxford- AstraZeneca amounting to 119,200 will come before the end of July.

Other consignments of vaccines include a package of 360,000 doses of AstraZeneca arriving end August and early September and 372, 000 doses of Pfizer vaccine arriving before the end of September.

In a related development, Kandodo Chiponda has assured people that the government is doing everything possible to make sure that there are enough Covid vaccines.

She said this when she inspected some vaccination sites in Lilongwe Monday.

“I want to give Malawians assurance that they should not worry; their government is trying its level best,” she said.

Kandodo Chiponda said the government had secured $30 million that would be used for purchasing more vaccines to supplement Covid doses sourced through donations.

“There is high demand for vaccines worldwide. This is the reason it is taking long to buy vaccine doses,” she said.

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