On Feb 2, 2021, Tanzania’s health minister, Dorothy Gwajima, announced that her country has no plans in place to recommend widespread use of COVID-19 vaccines in the African country.1 The announcement came a few days after Tanzania’s President John Magufuli expressed concern about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines developed and manufactured in Western countries.2
Tanzanian President Says Citizens Will Not Be Guinea Pigs in Vaccine Trials
President Magufuli said that the health ministry will only accept COVID-19 vaccines after Tanzania’s experts have examined and certified them. Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima explained, “We are not yet satisfied that those vaccines have been clinically proven safe”.3
President Magufuli reiterated that he will not allow Tanzanians to be used as guinea pigs in COVID-19 vaccine trials conducted by vaccine manufacturers. He warned that COVID-19 vaccines could be harmful and has been urging Tanzanians to stop living in fear and adopt common sense disease control measures and lead a healthy lifestyle.4 5 Health Minister Gwajima said:
We must improve our personal hygiene, wash hands with running water and soap, use handkerchiefs, herbal steam, exercise, eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water, and [use] natural remedies that our nation is endowed with.6
Questions About Whether COVID-19 Vaccine Will Be Available in Tanzania
Since the Tanzanian government has expressed hesitation about using COVID-19 vaccines, there are concerns being raised about whether Tanzanian citizens would get access to COVID vaccines through other avenues.7 If the government does not “register” COVID-19 vaccines for use in the country, there will be no vaccine supply accessible to the population. If the government decides to register the vaccines but declines to import them, private sector companies may be allowed to import some doses of COVID-19 vaccines, but the supply would likely not be enough for everyone in the country. In addition, if the supply of vaccines is only available through the private sector, the vaccines may not be accessible or affordable for many people living in Tanzania.8
On Feb. 3, 2021, a forecast of COVID-19 vaccine distribution was published by the COVAX initiative, which is an international collaboration between GAVI, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to ensure equitable access to vaccines. Tanzania was not on the distribution list.9
Tanzania’s Approach to the COVID-19 Pandemic “Unconventional”
The WHO and other institutions have been watching Tanzania closely since COVID-19 began to spread across Africa. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tanzanian government has objected to adopting strict lockdown protocols or restricting the movement of its citizens as the primary way to contain the spread of the virus, an approach adopted in the U.S., Europe and other countries. Although Tanzania’s more open and less restrictive approach has appeared to be radical and unconventional to many, the reasons included avoiding the negative economic fallout cause by lockdowns and the belief that the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic was over-rated.10
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1 Makani M. Tanzania Refuses COVID-19 Vaccines. The Lancet 2021; 397(10274): 566.
2 Voice of America. Tanzanian President Expresses Doubt on Coronavirus Vaccines. VOA News Jan. 27, 2021.
3 Makani M. Tanzania Refuses COVID-19 Vaccines. The Lancet 2021; 397(10274): 566.
4 British Broadcasting Cooperation. Coronavirus in Tanzania: The country that’s rejecting the vaccine. Feb. 6, 2021.
5 Kyobutungi C. Tanzania Isn’t Vaccinating Against COVID-19. What Does That Mean for the World? Global Citizen Feb. 18, 2021.
6 British Broadcasting Cooperation. Coronavirus in Tanzania: The country that’s rejecting the vaccine. Feb. 6, 2021.
7 Kyobutungi C. Tanzania Isn’t Vaccinating Against COVID-19. What Does That Mean for the World? Global Citizen Feb. 18, 2021.
9 Makani M. Tanzania Refuses COVID-19 Vaccines. The Lancet 2021; 397(10274): 566.
10 ITUC-AFRICA. Tanzania’s Approach to Fighting COVID-19 – Saving the economy for the people or not acting to their detriment?