As the country moves towards achieving head immunity, the Windhoek Observer (WO) caught up with the Executive Director in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ben Nangombe (BN) and below is an extract of the brief interview:
WO – Where do we stand as a country in terms of COVID-19 and the vaccination?
BN – Namibia’s vaccination program has deployed two types of vaccine to date.
These are Sinopharm and AstraZeneca.
• As of today 24 May 2021:
• A combined total of 62, 174 persons received their 1st first dose of either Sinopharm or Astrazeneca).
• 5,810 are fully vaccinated, i.e. they have received both the 1st and 2nd dose, again using one or the other of the vaccines deployed.
WO – How long will it take to reach Herd Immunity and what remains a challenge in achieving that? How are you addressing these challenges?
BN -• Namibia needs to fully vaccinate between 60% and 80% of the population to achieve herd immunity.
• These are approximately 1.5 million individuals.
• Access to vaccine doses remains a challenge, as demand for vaccines globally has outstripped production/supply of vaccine doses that countries around the world need.
• Namibia does not produce vaccines, we are relying on buying and importing them from other countries. The challenge is that many countries with production capacity are also prioritizing their citizens. These are manufacturers in some of the countries that supposed to supply vaccine doses to the COVAX Facility, for example the Serum Institute of India. The pandemic has also worsened in their country, and are therefore supplying only limited doses to the COVAX Facility for redistribution to other countries, including Namibia.
• To remedy this situation, Namibia is engaging bilaterally with other manufacturers outside of the COVAX Facility to buy additional vaccine doses. This process is at an advanced stage.
WO – What other agencies does the Ministry work with in its fight against COVID-19 and how key are these partners?
BN – Namibia has adopted a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to the COVID-19 response and preparedness. All OMAs are involved in one way or another. The private, development cooperation partners, non-governmental and civil society sectors have also come onboard since the beginning of the pandemic. They continue to play a vital role, including supporting vaccination related activities and efforts. In this context, it should be placed on record that a statement purportedly attributed to the Executive Director of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ben Nangombe, is entirely misconstrued and incorrect. We value the support and assistance that the Ministry of Health and Social Services and indeed our country have received and continue to receive from our development cooperation partners, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.
WO – Are there current sufficient stocks of COVID-19 vaccines to reach our goal of Herd Immunity?
• The vaccine doses we have in the country are able to carry us forward as we roll out the vaccination campaign.
• It is part of our strategy not to hoard vaccines that may end up expiring on our hands because some vaccines have short shelf life and we cannot store them for longer. For this reason, we have been ordering in batches. Last week, Namibia received 43,200 doses from the COVAX Facility.
• That said, procurement plans to secure enough doses to vaccinate 1.5 million people are in place and being executed going forward.
WO – How Effective has the roll-out campaign for the vaccine been?
BN – The vaccination program has been a great success. We have established 383 vaccination sites around the country. Although all vaccines are procured by Government, private health facilities have also been administering the vaccine and this has increased the uptake.
• Of course, there was some hesitancy at the beginning, but this is waning off and we see more people coming forward for vaccination.
• We have seen Community Leaders, high-level government officials, Cabinet Ministers, Diplomats, older age groups, Health Care workers, and people with comorbidities getting vaccinated.
• This is encouraging. We want to see the media spreading the positive messages and educating the general public about the importance of vaccination.