Tanzania says no plans in place to accept COVID-19 vaccines

DODOMA, TANZANIA — Tanzania’s health ministry says it has no plans in place to accept COVID-19 vaccines, just days after the president of the country of 60 million people expressed doubt about the vaccines without offering evidence.

Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima told a press conference in the capital, Dodoma, on Monday that “the ministry has no plans to receive vaccines for COVID-19.” Any vaccines must receive ministry approval. It is not clear when any vaccines might arrive, though Tanzania is eligible for the COVAX global effort aimed at delivering doses to low- and middle-income countries.

The health minister insisted Tanzania is safe. During a presentation in which she and others didn’t wear face masks, she encouraged the public to improve hygiene practices including the use of sanitizers but also steam inhalation — which has been dismissed by health experts elsewhere as a way to kill the coronavirus.

Chief government chemist Fidelice Mafumiko also suggested the use of herbal medicine to cure COVID-19, without offering evidence.

Tanzania’s government has been widely criticized for its approach to the pandemic. It has not updated its number of coronavirus infections — 509 — since April.

The World Health Organization’s Africa chief last week urged Tanzania to share its data on infections, while the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director said that “if we do not fight this as a collective on the continent, we will be doomed.”

President John Magufuli, who has long asserted that God has eliminated COVID-19 in Tanzania, last week asserted that vaccines for it are “inappropriate” even as the first significant vaccine deliveries begin to arrive on the African continent.

But authorities in Tanzania, from the Catholic church to government institutions, are pushing back and telling the public and employees that COVID-19 exists in the country and precautions must be taken.

While it’s difficult to gauge the level of virus infections in Tanzania, this week leading opposition party ACT Wazalendo announced that party leader Seif Sharif Hamad, vice-president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, was being treated for COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its latest travel warning on Tanzania says the country’s level of COVID-19 is “very high.” It gave no details but urged against all travel to the East African nation.

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