Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Wednesday launched the country’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign after receiving just over a million Johnson & Johnson shots donated by the United States through the COVAX scheme.
President Hassan was the first to receive the vaccine on live television and reassured the country that the shots are safe.
“I’m a mother of four, a grandmother of several grandchildren, and a wife, but most of all I’m the President and Commander in Chief. I wouldn’t put myself in danger knowing that I have all these responsibilities as the shepherd of the nation,” she said during a ceremony at State House in the city of Dar es Salaam.
The country’s Prime Minister, several ministers as well as prominent religious leaders were also vaccinated from the 1,058,400 doses received.
The live broadcast of their vaccinations was in part to allay fears stemming from widespread disinformation about vaccines on social media and from religious and political leaders.
President Hassan’s predecessor the late John Magufuli was widely criticized as a Covid-19 denier who endangered people’s lives. Before he died in mid-March, former leader John Magafuli repeatedly dismissed the seriousness of Covid-19 in his country and urged his citizens to “pray coronavirus away.”
Tanzania under the Magufuli regime made no bids for coronavirus vaccines, despite qualifying for the COVAX scheme. The government instead promoted nonpharmaceutical approaches such as herbal treatments and steam inhalation to combat the viral disease.
Shortly after he died in March, President Hassan formed a committee of experts to look into the safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.
The multidisciplinary team recommended common public health guidelines that are already in place in most of Africa and the rest of the world.
Tanzania only joined COVAX, the global initiative to avail vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, on 15th June.
Vaccines are still optional in the country, even for essential and frontline workers. But the president has assured the population of nearly 60 million that anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.
Among those vaccinated was Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima, a 50-year-old doctor who promoted herbal remedies and steam baths as unfounded alternative ways to manage and prevent the virus prior to receiving the vaccines.
She announced that Tanzania was in the third wave of the pandemic but her ministry does not share regular public data on cases, recoveries or deaths.
Tanzania expects more doses on the way from the African Union, confirmed the President who has already put in an order although she did not specify how many.