Why scepticism greeted Chinese vaccine

Those who have kept their ear to the ground will be aware of the amount of scepticism and hesitancy that has accompanied the roll out of the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine.

But this shouldn’t surprise anybody; the messaging from government hasn’t been good and the hurry to acquire it and deploy it has raised eyebrows. Why has the whole process been couched in political rather than medical language?

President Mnangagwa, on receiving the drug from the Chinese ambassador Guo Shaochun had this to say: “As I accept this donation on behalf of the Zimbabwean people let me express my appreciation to China for always being a steadfast partner to the people of Zimbabwe.” This highly political statement doesn’t do anything to assure the nation about the efficacy of the drug let alone inform the nation why it was made the drug of choice without going through due process.

Some will say the drug is being used successfully elsewhere without any dire side effects, therefore there wasn’t a need to repeat the processes in Zimbabwe.

But the political messaging is worrying. In his turn the Chinese ambassador politicised even further the whole transaction. He said: “Since early last year, we have stood firmly together in this fight, giving each other confidence, courage and support. As you can imagine, with 1,4 billion people at home to vaccinate and orders coming in from around the world, China is facing enormous challenges in providing vaccines for those who need them. But our Zimbabwean brothers come first. There has never been any doubt about that.”

Many Zimbabweans will ask: “What have we done to deserve this favour, ambassador Guo?”

The truth is Zimbabweans have done nothing to deserve this preferential treatment even ahead of the Chinese people themselves. Zimbabwe is just caught up in what experts call “vaccine diplomacy”.

There has been a race between world powers to be the first with the vaccine and the race has been embedded in military parlance much like the arms race that ensued after the Second World. Zimbabwe is caught in that cold war web.

After the failure of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be the first to make its footprint on the African continent, China wishes to fill up that gap. President Mnangagwa could be making the same mistake that former US President Donald Trump made: ignore the science and chase the politics.

Trump ignored the scientists such as top epidemiologist Anthony Fauci and listened instead to his political lapdogs. The result, as they say, is history! We wanted our scientists to come to the fore much like acting-Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Robert Madyirandima did when he said forthrightly. “So at the moment no one knows whether it (SinoPharm vaccine) works or does not work.” More robust scientific voices were needed way ahead of the political ones before the roll out began.