Kalumbi on Covid vaccines: We can’t wait for WHO approval

18 March 2021 | Health

Windhoek ∙ [email protected]

Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula says Namibia is not obliged to wait for World Health Organisation (WHO) approval to use a Covid-19 vaccine on the country’s people.

He said this to Namibian Sun at Hosea Kutako airport this week, where the first consignment of the Sinopharm vaccine - donated by the Chinese government - arrived.

“The Medicines and Related Substances Control Act of Namibia does not have a provision that any medicine used in Namibia must have the approval of the WHO,” he said.

This is despite the Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council (NMRC) raising red flags over vaccines not approved for emergency use by the global organisation.

The WHO’s emergency-use listing allows countries to accelerate their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.

‘We cannot sit idle’

Earlier this week, NMRC chair Hendrina Gideon explained that countries are free to use and procure any product they want, but as a country that aligns itself with the WHO, Namibia must adhere to WHO standards.

Shangula, however, said this will not be an obstacle and vaccines will be used under exemptions that are in place, as prescribed by the law.

“People of Namibia should not be denied the benefit to be protected, because the procedures which are in the Act and exceptions are provided for. The process of registration is still undergoing and is taking such a long time and we cannot sit idle and allow more lives to go,” he said.

China donated 100 000 doses of the vaccine, which will be used to inoculate roughly 45 000 people, given that two doses are required for one person, as well as anticipated wastage.

Additional doses which were procured through the Covax facility, expected to cover 20% of the population, have been significantly delayed and are expected to arrive in the country late March or early April.

According to Shangula, attempts to secure doses from manufacturers in India, Russia and the United States as well as from the Africa Medical Supply Platform have not borne fruits.

As such, the ministry has now secured an exemption from Treasury to procure more vaccines to cover at least the remaining 60% of the population.

‘Painfully slow’

“These engagements are ongoing but have proven to be painfully slow. Time is going and we need to explore other options,” he said.

Meanwhile, vaccinations will kick off tomorrow, 19 March, in the Erongo and Khomas regions until 16 April, and will target those between 18 and 59 years.

Other target populations include frontline healthcare workers, community health workers, persons in close settings and those operating cross-border transportations.

Employees at points of entry, police officers, journalists, members of the diplomatic corps, mining and fishery sector employees, elected leaders, religious and traditional leaders, people living with disabilities and refugees are also among these target populations.

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