Uganda undecided on who can get Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine

Government received a donation of 300,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China
Government received a donation of 300,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China

Kampala, Uganda | URN | The Ministry of Health is still undecided on which persons will be immunized against COVID-19 using China’s Sinovac vaccine.

While the vaccine from China was approved for use by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the country’s National Drug Authority (NDA), officials have not yet decided which districts will receive the vaccines or the persons who will be able to use them.

The indecision comes more than a week after government received a donation of 300,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine.

According to WHO, Sinovac vaccine was found to be able to prevent severe COVID-19 disease and deaths. The health body’s emergency listing guidelines recommend the use of the vaccine in people aged 18 and above, in a two-dose schedule with a spacing of two to four weeks

Dr. Alfred Driwale, the programme manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization says the government is still deciding on when the vaccine will be used.

Government’s indecisiveness when it comes to the use of the vaccine is out of character given the protocol that has been followed in the past when handling vaccine donations.

Uganda received its first COVID-19 vaccine donation in March and less than a week after the arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccines, the country launched immunization against the disease countrywide. This was done using plans for the vaccine roll out that were drawn as early as January 2021.

When asked why government is undecided, Dr. Driwale told this publication that there are several decisions that need to be made. “These vaccines are safe. They have been tried and tested. There’s nothing serious. We are just taking our time to decide where the vaccine would be of much use,” he said.

Sinovac is being used in more than 37 countries in the world. On the African continent, the vaccine has been used by Zimbabwe, South Africa, Togo and Seychelles. Vaccine efficacy results showed that the vaccine prevented symptomatic disease in 51% of those vaccinated and prevented severe COVID-19.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the Delta variant showed that the vaccines’ efficacy was 20 per cent.

According to Dr. Driwale, the Sinovac vaccines will remain in storage at the National Medical Stores until the government makes a decision.

To date, 1.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been issued in the country using AstraZeneca. The country is set to resume vaccination next week using 286,000 doses of AstraZeneca that were donated by Norway.

Unlike the previous vaccination exercise using vaccines donated by France, that targeted only health workers and persons getting their second dose, this round will target all high risk groups and also persons getting their second doses.

Dr. Driwale says they cannot afford to offer the vaccines to persons getting second doses only because many people are yet to get even one jab.

Read Also: Uganda calls for trust, saying vaccine donations are thoroughly verified

“By Monday 9, August 2021 all districts will have vaccines. We shall be giving the second dose to people who received their first jab three months ago, then we shall also vaccinate people in the original designated group. This group has 5 million people and yet less than one million have received at least one jab. We want to first complete this group before we invite other people. This is our priority,” said Dr. Driwale.

The government’s original plan was to vaccinate 150,000 health workers, 550,000 teachers and 250,000 security personnel. In addition to this, 3.5 million people over the age of 50 and persons living with co-morbidities were also supposed to be vaccinated first. However data coming in from the health ministry shows that less than 40 per cent of the targeted priority groups have been vaccinated.

Dr. Driwale says given the global scarcity of vaccines, the government does not know when the targeted groups will be fully vaccinated. He says uptake of vaccination is highly dependent on vaccine stocks.