After noticing that there was information gap among communities pertaining Covid-19 vaccines and vaccinations that are being offered countrywide, the Ministry of Health and Childcare (MOHCC) saw it fit to answer some of the questions that some members of the public had.

Below are some of the questions and answers. Members of the public will continue to get new information and updates via the ministry's website and other social media platforms.

Introduction

The Ministry of Health and Child Care provides lifesaving vaccines to children and adults through its network of health centres, in schools and in different communities. The Ministry aims to reach everyone in the country with vaccines to prevent illness, disability and death due to vaccine preventable diseases. COVID 19 vaccines are being rolled out in Zimbabwe and the rest of the world and below are answers to the commonly asked questions about these and other vaccines to help those who want to make the wise choice to vaccinate themselves and their children. Here we also provide facts for common myths that are circulating about the vaccines.

What is a vaccine?

Vaccines are medical products that are given to people (both children and adults) to protect them against serious and sometimes deadly diseases.

These vaccines help to protect us against all vaccine preventable diseases.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it's exposed to a disease. However, because vaccines contain only killed or weakened forms of germs like viruses or bacteria, they do not cause the disease or put you at risk of its complications.

Some vaccines require multiple doses, given weeks or months apart.

This is sometimes needed to allow for the production of long-lived antibodies and development of memory cells.

In this way, the body is trained to fight the specific disease-causing organism, building up memory against the pathogen so it can fight

it in the future

Vaccines reduce risks of getting a disease by working with your body's natural defences to build protection against specific diseases.

What is a COVID-19 vaccine?

It is a vaccine that is intended to provide immunity against COVID-19. Several safe and effective vaccines have now been produced and approved for use and countries have started rolling out COVID 19 vaccination programmes to protect people.

Are vaccines necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Yes, vaccines are an essential public health measure for the prevention and control of COVID-19 locally and globally. Vaccines have been a major pillar for the control of similar epidemics in the past and will equally be important for COVID 19. The vaccines will complement existing prevention and control measures and not replace them. Zimbabwe together with the rest of the world is rolling out safe and effective COVID 19 vaccines to control and eventually eliminate COVID 19 burden in the country

What types of COVID-19 vaccines are being developed? How would they work?

Scientists are developing many potential vaccines for COVID-19, all designed to teach the body's immune system to safely recognize and block the virus that causes COVID-19. Different types of vaccines include:

Inactivated or weakened virus vaccines, which use a form of the virus that doesn't cause disease, but still prompts an immune response

Protein-based vaccines, which a coronavirus protein or protein fragment to safely prompt an immune response

Viral vector vaccines, which use a virus that has been engineered so it can't cause disease, but produces coronavirus proteins to safely prompt an immune response

RNA and DNA vaccines, a new approach that provides "instructions" for cells to build a protein that safely prompts an immune response

What would be the benefits of getting a COVID 19 vaccine?

COVID-19 is easily transmitted and can lead to serious illness and death, even for people who are young and healthy.

Vaccines for COVID-19 will only be approved for use in this country if large, rigorous, and thorough scientific studies show that they safely reduce your risk of getting COVID-19. They would do that by preparing your body's natural defences - the immune system - to recognize and fight off the virus that causes COVID-19.

Scientists are studying whether people who get vaccinated for COVID-19 would also be less likely to pass the COVID-19 virus on to other people. If that's the case, getting vaccinated could be a powerful way to not only protect yourself, but also your entire community.

Why should I get vaccinated?

Vaccines save lives. Vaccines will help protect you and those around you against vaccine preventable diseases that can cause serious harm or death.

Those who cannot be vaccinated like very young babies, the very ill or those with certain allergies and people with compromised immune systems depend on others being vaccinated to ensure they are also safe from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Without vaccines, we are at high risk of serious illness and disability from diseases like measles, meningitis, pneumonia, tetanus, polio and COVID 19

Who can get vaccinated?

Nearly everyone can get vaccinated. However, because of some medical conditions, some people should not get certain vaccines, or should wait before getting them.

Your health provider will help to decide on which vaccine is recommended or not recommended for your condition

Will there be enough COVID-19 vaccines for everyone? If not, who will get them first?

Currently there is limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines globally due to high demand. This means not everyone in Zimbabwe will be able to get vaccinated right away.

The country will therefore roll out vaccination in phases starting with those at highest risk until all eligible people have been covered. Priority groups in Zimbabwe include health and other frontline workers at highest risk of infection, older adults 60 years and above, and people at high risk of death because of underlying conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Once adequate doses become available, we will encourage all those who qualify to get vaccinated.

Will I be able to access the vaccine for free?

Yes. COVID-19 vaccines will be provided free of to all those who are eligible and want to protect themselves

Will I be forced to take the COVID 19 vaccine?

Every Zimbabwean must lookout for each other. The government however recommends all eligible persons in Zimbabwe to take up COVID 19 vaccination when their turn comes. It is important to note that various institutions, employers and countries may require proof of COVID 19 vaccination upon entry or hiring to protect citizens as the roll out of COVID 19 vaccines continue

What is the benefit of vaccinating a lot of people in a community at risk?

When a lot of people in a community are vaccinated, it becomes difficult for the disease to circulate because most of the people it encounters are protected and cannot catch it. The more people who get vaccinated the lesser the risk of getting the disease in a community and this concept is called herd immunity. This is the reason why it is important for all eligible people in our communities to be vaccinated against all vaccine preventable diseases.

Herd immunity also prevents disease outbreaks by making it difficult for the disease to spread since most people will be protected. The disease will become more and more rare, sometimes even disappearing entirely from your area and in the country.

Herd immunity for COVID 19 can be reached if 60 percent or more of the population at risk is vaccinated

How quickly can COVID19 vaccine stop the pandemic?

The impact of COVID-19 vaccines on the pandemic will depend on several factors.

These include:

The effectiveness of the vaccines;

How quickly they are manufactured and delivered for use

How many people get vaccinated?

Wider availability and uptake of effective COVID 19 vaccines in Zimbabwe is expected to have greatest impact on the pandemic and facilitate early return to normalcy. COVID-19 vaccines are not 100% effective hence you will need to continue to practice all other recommended behaviours even after vaccination

If I get a COVID-19 vaccine, will I still need to take other precautions such as physical distancing, wearing masks and regular handwashing?

Yes. For the time being, we recommend that everyone - including those who have been vaccinated - continue using all available tools to help stop the spread of COVID-19, such as physical distancing, regular handwashing and the proper use of masks. Using all of these tools in combination will provide the best possible protection against getting and spreading COVID-19. This recommendation could change in the future once many people have been vaccinated, and as we learn more about the "real world" protection provided by COVID-19 vaccines.

Will COVID-19 vaccines provide long-term protection?

It's too early to know if COVID-19 vaccines will provide long-term protection. Added research is needed to answer this question. However, it's encouraging that available data suggest that most people who recover from COVID-19 develop an immune response that provides at least some protection against reinfection - although we're still learning how strong this protection is, and how long it lasts.

Will other existing vaccines help protect me from COVID19?

Currently, there is no evidence that any existing vaccines will protect against COVID19.

Studies are however being carried out on whether some existing vaccines are also effective for COVID-19 prevention.

Are vaccines safe to use?

Yes. Vaccines are generally safe and have been in use for many years in Zimbabwe and the rest of the world

It is a legal requirement that all vaccines and medicines used in our health facilities undergo rigorous safety testing, including all recommended clinical trials before they are approved for use. All vaccines (including COVID 19 vaccines) go through a comprehensive approval process by global and local medical regulators to ensure that they are safe for use in humans.

The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe only registers vaccines that meet quality and safety standards for use in Zimbabwe.

Safety monitoring for vaccines is also an ongoing activity in the national immunisation programme in Zimbabwe

NB: A person is far more likely to be seriously harmed by a disease than by a vaccine.

What steps are taken to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine is safe?

COVID-19 vaccines go through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large trials that involve tens of thousands of people. These trials, which include people at high risk for COVID-19, are specifically designed to identify any common adverse events or other safety concerns.

Once a clinical trial shows that a COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, a series of independent reviews of the efficacy and safety evidence is required, including regulatory review and approval in the country where the vaccine is manufactured, before WHO considers a vaccine product for prequalification. An external panel of experts convened by WHO analyses the results from clinical trials, along with evidence on the disease, age groups affected, and risk factors for disease, and other information. The panel recommends whether and how the vaccines should be used.

What process is followed before a vaccine is given to the public?

Before COVID-19 vaccines can be delivered:

The vaccines must be to be proven safe and effective in large clinical trials.

A series of independent reviews of the efficacy and safety evidence is required.

The evidence must also be reviewed for the purpose of policy recommendations on how the vaccines should be used.

An external panel of experts convened by WHO, called the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), analyses the results from clinical trials.

The panel then recommends whether and how the vaccines should be used.

Officials in individual countries decide whether to approve the vaccines for national use and develop policies for how to use the vaccines in their country based on the WHO recommendations.

All COVID 19 vaccines in use have been approved for emergency use by either WHO or other Stringent Regulatory Authorities (SRAs) in manufacturing countries

Who approves COVID 19 vaccines?

In the countries where vaccines are manufactured, national or regional regulators oversee a vaccine's development. This includes approving clinical trials, evaluating their results, and taking decisions on licensing. In deciding, regulators refer to very strict international standards on acceptable ethical clinical practice.

Once a vaccine has been developed, our local regulators and experts decide whether to introduce the vaccine in Zimbabwe and with what conditions.

Are there side effects from vaccines?

Minor reactions can occur after getting a vaccine such as a pain or swelling on injection site or a mild fever and irritability in children. These are usually indications that the vaccine has started to work.

More serious side effects such as shock and persistent fever are possible, but extremely rare and vaccinators are trained to manage these.

It advised to visit your health facility for advice if you are worried about your condition after vaccination