How Tanzania made a U-turn on vaccines after Magufuli’s death

Nii Ntreh July 29, 2021
The new President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, recently received her jab. Photo: STATEHOUSE TANZANIA

Tanzanians are being actively urged to get Covid-19 vaccines, marking a significant shift in policy for one of Africa’s most populous nations. The vaccination campaign is a U-turn from the former president’s Covid skepticism, and a vaccination campaign begins. 

The new President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, who recently received her jab, is at the forefront of the campaign. John Magufuli, the man she succeeded, downplayed the illness and advocated for unapproved medicine. The Minister of Health was a strong believer in Magufuli’s approach.

Dr. Dorothy Gwajima, the Minister of Health, appeared before the press on February 2 alongside her deputies. To reassure the public that natural treatments were the best approach to combat the coronavirus, they all drank mixtures combining ginger, garlic, and lemons.

“The government has no plans to receive COVID-19 vaccines that are being distributed in other countries,” Gwajima told the press conference.

Months later, the president is no longer alive. Although rumors arose (and were rejected) that he had caught COVID-19, the official cause of his death on March 17 at the age of 61 was heart illness. After his death, Samia set up a task force on coronavirus. Officially, the country of 58 people has reported 29 coronavirus fatalities and 858 cases, but there are worries that the real numbers are far higher. 

The World Health Organization recently issued a warning about an increase in cases across Africa, noting a 43 percent increase in mortality week over week.

Tanzania got slightly over one million doses of the single-jab Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the weekend as part of a worldwide Covax initiative to help poorer nations combat the virus. President Samia, who had her immunization on Wednesday, stated, “We are not an island, and that is why we are now starting vaccination.” 

She advised all Tanzanians to be vaccinated and stated that additional vaccines will be delivered to the country. She said that she had had numerous vaccinations since she was a child and that she was taking this one since it was known to be safe.

Tanzania’s prior record on vaccinations stood in stark contrast to Magafuli’s anti-vaccine position. Tanzania was listed among the top ten African nations for good vaccination rates in 2014, with 99 percent coverage of child immunization. People in one area of Tanzania have already been vaccinated: the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar began their own vaccination program two weeks ago, using China’s Sinovac vaccine. To prevent the virus from spreading, Tanzania’s government has also outlawed needless gatherings.

As a sign of how much has changed, Health Minister Gwajima described the vaccination push as “historic” and encouraged people to be vaccinated, stating the government aimed to vaccinate at least 60% of the population. 

She was the one who advocated for herbal steam under Magafuli. While she previously did not wear a face mask in public, she now does so and has begun to advocate for preventive measures like physical distance and hand-washing. She’s also urging people to embrace COVID-19 vaccinations.

Public views on Covid precautions remain casual, with most people strolling around without masks, while public opinion on vaccine safety remains mixed. Vaccination continues to be politicized. A member of Parliament and a pastor, Josephat Gwajima, has repeatedly advised his followers not to take the jabs. On July 25, he began an anti-vaccine campaign as a Magufuli supporter. 

“Being vaccinated is optional; take use of that choice to decline vaccinations,” he wrote on social media.

This initiative has elicited no response from the government.

Deep-seated doubt still exists. Many individuals in rural and urban regions have not had access to a health system that promotes a biological approach to disease treatment for a long time. A sizable portion of this culture still believes in using traditional medicine to treat their ailments. It’s understandable if individuals may not show up for immunizations as a result of this.

The government will have to employ a concerted approach to public education on the vaccine. This will require important stakeholders in various demographics.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 29, 2021


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