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Some of the world's most vulnerable people are being harmed by Zimbabwe's vaccine mandates

Acholo Jani waited for months to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It might have saved his life. Fearful of possible side effects, he hesitated. Jani accepted the job saving offer and complied.

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Some of the world's most vulnerable people are being harmed by Zimbabwe's vaccine mandates

The employer of the 43-year-old mechanic is one of many in Zimbabwe that requires shots for their employees. This includes the government which has mandated the vaccination for its 500,000 employees. This sets the south African nation apart from almost every other country on the continent. The biggest challenge is still obtaining enough vaccines.

Zimbabwe claims it has plenty of supply, mostly from China. However, this hesitancy is holding back the campaign. This problem has also troubled other African nations partly due to a general distrust in authorities. However, Zimbabwe's strategy raises serious rights questions.

Critics claim that Zimbabwe's rollout of mandates is not up to the task, unlike other rich countries. Sometimes, vaccine centers run out of supplies and in recent months, poor urban areas and rural areas have been left without adequate doses.

They also said that it was cruel to risk the livelihoods and well-being of those who are already among the most vulnerable people in the world, as they were already suffering from the pandemic.

"The Zimbabwe government needs to first ensure that all vaccines are available without obstacles, before making them compulsory," Dewa Mavhinga from Human Rights Watch Southern Africa said.

Mavhinga called on the government to address vaccine hesitancy in a way that increases public trust and confidence without resorting to force.

The government, which is known for its authoritarian tendencies, seems ready to go all out. The government already requires vaccinations at places where worship, and it has suggested that the mandates be extended to public buses, a vital mode of transport for the poor. It might restrict access to informal markets -- which are used by millions to purchase or sell goods -- as well.

These measures would make the vaccination a mandatory requirement for most Zimbabwean adults. This includes the two-thirds who are not employed and the informal workers.

Jani said that Jani's work place now has a vaccination card. It is a small booklet with the government emblem on it.

He said, "There is nowhere for me to hide," while waiting outside the clinic in Harare's Mufakose township.

Jani finally got his shot after waiting seven hours and joining the line at 5 am.

Many people have waited for hours only to find out that the center had closed early due to a shortage of supplies or staff shortage. Some people who are eligible for second shots complained that they were turned away by centers, preferring first-dosers. Recently, a new batch of vaccines arrived and the lines seem to be shrinking.

Nearly 15% of Zimbabwe's 15,000,000 people have been fully vaccinated. This is higher than the average African rate of 4%, but still far below the government's target of 60%. China Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines have been administered to 12 million people in Zimbabwe so far. According to Johns Hopkins University data, just over 5 million doses have been administered.

Peter Mutasa is the president of Zimbabwe's largest labor union. He said that the government is mostly to blame for not providing enough vaccinations.

He said, "Workers have been trying getting vaccinated."

Mutasa's group, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is fighting mandates to workers in court. It is the only organization in Zimbabwe to publicly oppose them. Others are afraid to voice their opposition for fear of being called anti-vaccination.

Mutasa doesn't oppose the shots, but said that linking them with employment will cause jobs to be lost in a country where employment is scarce after the economic collapse of just over 10 years ago. The economy has experienced record inflation levels and many people live in poverty. Nearly half of Zimbabwe's people live on less that $1.90 per day.

He said that Mandates would cause "carnage."

Chief coordinator of the government’s COVID-19 response, Dr. Agnes Mahomva, has defended mandates, saying that they are intended to "protect everyone" and that they remain voluntary.

She said, "If someone doesn't want vaccinated then no one will come to their home to vaccinate them."

Mutasa said that workers who are desperate to get a paycheck "never say no".

Johns Hopkins reports that Zimbabwe has reported almost 130,000 cases of the virus and nearly 4,600 deaths. Although those numbers are likely to be underestimated, they still indicate that the virus is not being reported in Zimbabwe. This may have contributed to a lackluster response to getting vaccinated.

Dr. Johannes Marisa is the president of Zimbabwe's Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association. He says mandates are crucial.

Marisa stated that "you have to coerce people" if you want to move forward. "Human rights are important but public health is paramount."

Marisa is positive that other African countries will follow her lead, since the biggest problem on the continent is not acquiring vaccines but getting them into the hands of the hesitant. This moment seems far away, given the outcry of African leaders calling for more vaccine equity at U.N.

South Africa's neighbor Zimbabwe, with over 87,000 people dying from COVID-19, is not following any government directives.

South Africa is instead moving towards incentives. President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that the fully vaccinated could soon be permitted to attend concerts and sports events for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Some private companies, however, have indicated that mandates will be issued. Discovery, a financial and health insurance company with over 14500 employees in South Africa, stated that it will require its workers to be vaccinated before they can enter its offices.

Many countries face the challenge of mandates in the world, but the stakes in Zimbabwe are higher.

Jani cannot return to work until he is fully vaccinated. This means Jani will have to sell whatever he can on streets in order to make a living, while he loses his regular pay.

He asked, "How can you survive in this country without a vaccine card?" He must find a way.

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