UPDATES WITH REMARKS BY PARENTS, OFFICIAL ON VACCINATION CONCERNS
By James Kunda
LUSAKA, Zambia (AA) - An additional 222,300 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine arrived in Zambia this week to boost an ongoing program to get jabs in the arms of children aged 12 to 18, said a statement on Thursday.
The vaccines were purchased and donated by the US through the COVAX initiative as part of efforts by Washington to rapidly expand vaccine coverage, according to a statement by the US Embassy in the capital Lusaka.
Authorities in the Southern African nation started vaccinating children against the coronavirus last December in a campaign steadily gaining momentum.
In a recent virtual press conference Health Ministry official Kalangwa Kalangwau underlined that achieving herd immunity would be "key in winning the fight against COVID-19."
"I want to assure parents that Pfizer (vaccine) is safe for children and protects them from infection," Kalangwa said.
The country's Health Ministry on Thursday reported 2,167 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total to 291,582. The death count stands at 3,834 after four additional fatalities.
Of the total 8.4 million people eligible for vaccination in Zambia, 1.4 million have been fully vaccinated, according to official figures.
In a recent video feed on social media, Health Ministry Infectious Diseases Director Lloyd Mulenga said the vaccination of children against the coronavirus was different than that of adults, since minors already receive many routine vaccines that protect them against other diseases.
"We think it will be better if we can link the COVID-19 vaccine to the routine immunization program for children," said Mulenga in the Facebook feed from Lusaka.
Seeking to allay fears on the possible side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, the official said such side effects from any medication were "normal and people should embrace the new development to have their children vaccinated against coronavirus."
He underlined that children were at higher risk of getting the virus as they could not strictly adhere to safety precautions.
Some parents, like Norah Banda, still have concerns, however. The Lusaka-based trader and mother of five said she would only allow her children to get vaccinated if she is assured of the jab's safety.
"If I have never had any problems with any vaccinations administered by health workers in our health facilities, I'll have no trouble with Pfizer, as long as I'm guaranteed it has no side effects," she said.
Another parent, Joseph Mulenga, voiced skepticism on all coronavirus vaccines, but said that if the Health Ministry assured him that they had no severe side effects on children, he would have no trouble letting his own get the jab.