Zimbabwe is recording an upsurge in the number of “vaccination tourists”, as South Africans and nationals of other African countries come to get vaccinated against Covid-19. With most African countries still struggling to get their Covid-19 vaccine rollout programmes up and running, this has become an option for those that are able to cross into Zimbabwe to have the jabs for a fee.
In April President Emmerson Mnangagwa said foreigners visiting Zimbabwe could get vaccinated if they are willing to pay for the service that is free to locals.
“Zimbabweans will get the vaccine for free, but for foreigners who come here, they will receive the vaccine at a cost,” Mnangagwa said. “This is a human element, we cannot deny anybody the vaccine, but if you are not Zimbabwean we will give you the vaccine at a cost.”
The invitation has been welcomed mostly by South Africans who are anxious about their safety in light of the threat of a third wave of the coronavirus looming on the horizon. The dreaded Indian variant of the virus has already been recorded in a number of African countries. South Africa has been the worst affected by Covid-19 on the African continent and despite taking a lead in the race to secure vaccines, its vaccination programme is yet to fully take off after suffering a number of false starts.
Grant Evans, a local businessman in Zimbabwe, says he decided to bring over members of his extended family based in South African who aren’t yet eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa where priority is still on health workers followed by the elderly.
“The Covid-19 vaccine rollout is slow in South Africa, and my extended family in Cape Town needed to get vaccinated. We made a decision to bring them to Zimbabwe to get vaccinated. The private clinics in Zimbabwe are charging foreign nationals $70 for both jabs, we are happy to pay and it sounds reasonable,” Evans said.
Zimbabwe, one of the few African countries that have successfully rolled out a Covid-19 vaccination programme, has so far authorised the use of four Covid-19 vaccines: China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, Russia’s Sputnik V and Covaxin from India. The two Chinese vaccines constitute the bulk of jab available in Zimbabwe, which has so far inoculated over 600,000 of its citizens.
However, unlike in South African where desperation is growing, the number of those vaccinated in Zimbabwe remain way below what the government expected as the programme is suffering from vaccine hesitancy and scepticism among citizens, including among the health workers themselves.
A survey conducted by Zimbabwe’s College of Public Health Physicians in March revealed that 49% of Zimbabweans did not trust that President Mnangagwa’s government could provide them with a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.
Dr Norman Matara from the Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights’ blamed the apathy to inadequate education about the vaccines. “We need the minister of Health to have an effective communication department such that people are given information regarding this vaccine, about its safety, its effectiveness, and dispel all those myths and misconceptions which are surrounding this vaccine,” he said.