Scores of undocumented Batswana vaccine tourists who continue to cross to South Africa for speedy access to the jab have become a statistical nightmare for the Botswana government.
Botswana’s shortage of vaccine, coupled with a sluggish rollout that remains limited to essential services and those above 45 years old, has led to residents who fall outside the specified demographics deciding to take advantage of South Africa’s more inclusive vaccination program.
The numbers also include those without the patience to queue up for hours at packed vaccination centres. “It took me just minutes to get the jab,” said one vaccine tourist.
While the government continues to release weekly information on the ongoing vaccine rollout, the numbers do not represent a true reflection of the vaccinated figures.
“The Ministry of Health and Wellness is aware of some Batswana and residents of this country who got their COVID-19 jabs outside the country including from the two countries you mention. The ministry has started a process to capture the numbers of all Batswana and residents who got their COVID-19 jabs outside the country. It is only after this process has been completed that the exact number of people who got their COVID-19 jabs outside the country can be known,” Chief Public Relations Officer Dr Christopher Nyanga told Sunday Standard this week. However, the Ministry did not disclose how they intend to gather this information given there is currently no provision for the mandatory registration of those who vaccinate abroad. There remains no legal obligation for vaccine tourists to disclose their true reason for travel.
The government, it seems, will depend on the goodwill of the tourists to volunteer information. Any attempts to provide such figures would be equivalent to taking shots in the dark.
“The process to capture all vaccinated people in the country regardless of where they were vaccinated is ongoing. As a result, the information will be available soon,” Nyanga has however said.
He said the government was well aware of the vaccine tourism. “The ministry is aware that some Batswana have been vaccinated in other countries for various reasons. Countries have taken a position to vaccinate all people in their localities regardless of whether they are foreigners or not, because the intention is to do anything that can avert the spread of COVID-19 and death of human beings. Botswana has also adopted the same stance and has been vaccinating all legal residents of this country regardless of their nationality.”
Speaking in Parliament recently Assistant Minister of Health Sethomo Lelatisitswe refused to attribute the cross border vaccination to the shortage of vaccines locally.
“Some of those who were vaccinated in South Africa or Zimbabwe happened to find themselves there and because people were getting vaccinated, they joined the queue, just like foreigners in our own country,” Lelatisitswe was quoted in the media as having said. “Vaccination is a public health issue – you can do it anywhere. If Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe leave out Botswana citizens in their vaccination roll-out, with their hospitals getting full, it’s going to be that country’s responsibility to hospitalize them if they contract the virus.”
Botswana’s vaccination roll out stood at 224, 443 fully vaccinated and 374,750 for those who had received a single dose as at Thursday September 16, 2020. This represents a total vaccination of just under 10 percent of the population.
There were also 2,591 active cases, and 2,343 deaths. The total number of Botswana infections stood at 172, 252 with 167,318 recoveries. Earlier this month President Masisi told the nation the government expects to have vaccinated at least 64 percent of the total population by end of October 2020.