Bravo on securing Covid-19 vaccines, but…

On March 2, 2021, the Minister of Health shared a statement with the media and the general public announcing a number of activities around the mass immunization of Ugandans and foreigners aged 18 years and above against the deadly Covid-19 disease.

We applaud the Government of Uganda upon this achievement and we are proud of the Ministry of Health for staying the course and for sharing an elaborate plan of how the vaccines will be distributed, with whom, when and how, among other logistical concerns.

However, a few things stick out for me and if these are not adequately answered are likely to cause a stampede and the corruption that comes with these, as has been seen in the past.

According to the released plan, the first people to get the inoculation in phase 1 will be health workers, security personnel, teachers, persons aged over 50 years and then persons between 18 and 50 years, but with underlying conditions. Other emerging high risk and priority essential groups will include airline staff, media, prisoners, tour operators and guides, bankers, immigration officers, Uganda wildlife Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority employees, Humanitarian Workers and others to be identified.

On this list, we do not see politicians and politically exposed persons.

Experience during the vaccinations to protect Ugandans against meningitis in the mid-1990s were marred by irregularities because health workers charged with the vaccination process instead vaccinated their families at the expense of those targeted. During the mass vaccination against Hepatitis B in Eastern and Northern Uganda, vaccines first went to the politically exposed and family members of health workers which was not the intended purpose. These two incidents I have given happened before the impunity among the political elite got to the levels at which they are today. What guarantees do we have that this is not going to happen during the vaccinations against Covid-19?

The Health Minister stated that Uganda would receive starting on March 5, 2021 some 864,000 doses of the promised 3,552,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine from the COVAX facility an initiative of the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the GAVI to provide vaccines to the world poorest nations. Throughout 2021, Uganda will receive some 17,872,037 doses from COVAX.

Earlier Uganda had placed orders for some 18 million doses at a tune of $162,801,475, again, from AstraZeneca/Oxford of which 400,000 should be arriving in mid-March 2021. In all, these vaccines should be enough to inoculate 49.6% of the population twice with an eight-to-twelve-week interval between the first and the second doses.

However, the supply of vaccines has been a headache to the West where some suppliers including AstraZeneca/Oxford had a number of concerns raised especially by the European Union oversupply timelines. The Ministry of health has not stated if there are contingencies to cover this eventuality, should it happen.

The Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (UNEPI) is a national body charged with the immunisation of children and women of childbearing age. The body also conducts routine immunisations, supplemental immunisations, accelerated routine immunisation and surveillance and outbreak response under which the Covid-19 pandemic would ideally fall, but plans are underway to train individuals to handle the Covid-19 vaccination that will be administered on the upper left shoulder, much like what is already being done by UNEPI.

Instead of creating parallel structures that did not get the country far in the management of Covid-19 in 2020, we are repeating the same mistake by not empowering agencies already in place, but by creating parallel structures that will most certainly be shrouded in controversy, opaqueness and corruption as was experienced in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in Uganda.

The Covid-19 inoculation is premised on the availability of a national ID to determine one’s nationality, but not all Ugandans above the age of 18 years have national ID cards. On the contrary, the number of Ugandans above the age of 18 without national ID cards is higher than those with ID cards. My issue here is what will happen to those individuals without ID cards?

The Ministry of Health needs to pronounce itself on this matter or find ways of ensuring that NIRA, the agency charged with the registration of births and deaths, steps up the issuance of national ID cards to all Ugandans who have registered for the IDs and also replace all those ID cards that have been reported lost. The average turn-around time for a national ID at NIRA is anywhere between 6 to 12 weeks, but there are people who have been trying, without success, to get an ID card for 3 years.

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