The government plans to vaccinate an estimated 153 090 people from 14 target groups during Phase 1 of its national vaccination programme. Top of the list are healthcare workers who number 22 497 in all.Next on the list are members of the arms of force, namely the Botswana Defence Force, Botswana Police Service (BDF), Botswana Prisons Service and the Directorate of the Intelligence and Security Services (DISS).
The vaccination plan quotes the estimated numbers of people to be vaccinated and concern has been raised that revealing the size of the BDF and DISS compromises national security. An additional group of BDF members is included under staff at “ports of entry.” Other groups in that category are police and immigration officers as well as officials from the Botswana Unified Revenue Services, Ministry of Health and Wellness and Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. “Ports of entry” is what is commonly referred to as “border gates” and would include airports, notably the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gaborone.
Some 700 cross-border truck drivers will be vaccinated during Phase 1. Since COVID-19 struck Botswana and at great risk to their health, this group of workers has been transporting goods in and out of the country. Upon determination that they were also virus vectors, the government had police cars escort their vehicles in order to limit their interaction with members of the public. The vaccine would certainly ease this restriction and free up more policing resources.
In terms of numbers, teachers constitute the highest target group at 31 633. Botswana schools are among the hardest hit, with one of the highest mortality rates occurring among teachers themselves. The Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) has been lobbying for teachers to be included in Phase 1 of the vaccination programme. The second largest group (28 148) is that of people who are 55-64 year old with co-morbidities and is followed (at 24 769) by that of people who are 65 years and above with co-morbidities.
Also on the list are social workers (1514), Red Cross, ACHAP and Tebelopele workers (5000), COVID-19 temporary employees (1400) as well as legislators, United Nations staff and diplomats. Legislators are listed as 70 Members of Parliament and 609 councillors while the combined number of UN and diplomatic staff is estimated at 400.Two more phases will follow.
Phase 2 will target 503 309 people and will have two-sub-phases: the first sub-phase will target people who are 65 years and above without co-morbidities (99 076), 55-64 years without co-morbidities (112 590) and those working in “critical area in sustaining the economy” (64 412). The sub-total for people in all those groups is 276 078. The second sub-phase is made of just one group: 20 percent of people who are 18-54 years with co-morbidities, whose number is estimated at 227 231. Phase 3 will be made up of just one group: 80 percent of people who are 18-54 years without co-morbidities. This phase targets 908 924 people and will have four sub-phases, each targetting 227 231 people.
All told, the three phases will target a grand total of 1 565 323 people. The plan doesn’t indicate timelines but Phase 1 got underway last Friday afternoon when former president, Festus Mogae, some former cabinet ministers and local government leaders were vaccinated on live TV. Missing from that list is former president Ian Khama who has a strained relationship with the government of his successor.
Beyond the obvious news value of the exercise, the televised vaccination was meant to allay fears about the safety of the vaccine. That notwithstanding, there is a feeling by some that President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Vice President Slumber Tsogwane should have been the first to get vaccinated. That was actually what the Leader of the Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando, said in parliament last Friday. In response, Tsogwane said that contrary to what Saleshando said, it is not always the president and vice president who get vaccinated first. In support of that assertion, Tsogwane said that Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa received his own jab way after his country began its national vaccination programme.“I can’t jump the queue at the expense of people whose lives are at greater risk than mine,” the Vice President. “UDC may believe it is right to hog a public good but we are not like that.”
On the whole, the Umbrella for Democratic Change seems determined to gin up drama around the fact that Masisi and Tsogwane are not first in the vaccine queue. Beyond the obvious gamesmanship, there is real concern about the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that Botswana obtained from India and started using on Friday. Some European Union countries have suspended use of this vaccine following a variety of health scares – like blood-clotting in some patients. In Italy, at least one person died after being vaccinated.
It has emerged that in its rush to get the vaccine to market, AstraZeneca cut corners. Last week, it revised down the efficacy level of the vaccine from the 79 percent it had earlier claimed to 76 percent. Days earlier, an independent panel that oversees the vaccine study had accused AstraZeneca of cherry-picking data to tout the protection offered by its vaccine. The panel said the company hadn’t reported some adverse Covid-19 cases that occurred in the study. Botswana has received 30 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India. This was a donation from the Indian government but Botswana expects to take delivery of its pre-order purchase from COVAX soon.
COVAX is a global scheme to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries that is being overseen by WHO. It is funded by governments, vaccine manufacturers, other organisations and individuals, with $1.4bn committed so far and more funds urgently needed, works in the following way. The scheme makes arrangements with private vaccine producers, who are then entered in its portfolio, enabling countries to make advance purchases of large volumes of vaccines. In this way, poor countries are given the opportunity to strike deals with private producers in the COVAX portfolio for a nominal sum or even for free. So far, 156 countries, representing nearly two thirds of the global population, have signed up for COVAX. Botswana is also among countries that have signed up for this “poor man’s vaccine.”
Through Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson, COVAX has secured 2 billion doses through supply agreements. The first doses were to be delivered in the first quarter of 2021.