HEALTH Minister Dr Jonas Chanda says it is irresponsible for medical personnel to start arguing about whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine should be rolled out because it is meant to protect citizens from a further spread of the virus.

And Dr Chanda says that President Edgar Lungu and Cabinet ministers, including himself, are willing to be the first Zambians to get the COVID-19 vaccine jab, even on arrival at the airport.

Meanwhile, Dr Chanda has explained that rich countries have not committed as much resources to the HIV vaccine compared to the COVID-19 vaccines because their populations were more affected by the Coronavirus.

Speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, Dr Chanda said that it would be irresponsible to argue over the speed at which the vaccine was produced rather than focusing on saving lives.

“It’s my job as Minister of Health to educate those critics. I can give you an example, already in the country, we may have maybe nine or 12 vaccines: polio, measles, HPV and all these vaccines that we give our under-five and adolescent people. They are there, but the difference with those vaccines, measles is not a pandemic, polio is not a pandemic, HPV is not a pandemic, and you are talking about a global pandemic, which is affecting every country, 125 million people and counting, sick. So, it will be very irresponsible, actually, to even start arguing.

He added that despite nothing being 100 per cent effective, the efficacy of the vaccines coming to Zambia had already been well established.

“There is nothing 100 per cent effective on earth that is why when you look at vaccines, there are three key issues that we are looking at on any vaccine. And I should mention that although we have over 50 vaccines right now under trials, only 13 vaccines, globally, are being used and there is a reason for that. One, you have to look at the efficacy that is why we have clinical trials: hundreds of thousands of people participate before a vaccine is used. So, clinical trials have been done for all these 13 candidates that we are using and efficacy has been established,” he said.

And when asked whether the COVID-19 vaccine was part of a plan to control the population, Dr Chanda said it was just a conspiracy theory meant to sway people.

And Dr Chanda, who is also Bwana Mkubwa PF member of parliament, appealed to Zambians to trust government on the vaccine roll-out, adding that he was willing to be among the first citizens to take the jab.

The President has made it very clear, he can be the first; Zambians want him to be the first; he can be the last if Zambians want him to be the last. But the President is very supportive because he knows this is good for the country and my job as Minister of Health is to advise the President and the whole government and the country that this is the right step for us to take and that is why we have taken a very cautious approach. When I was a medical student, I was taught that don’t administer anything to a patient where you haven’t tested yourself and that is why for me, I have no problem, I can do a COVID-19 vaccine jab anyway, anywhere, any place, even on arrival at the airport.”

Meanwhile, Dr Chanda explained that the global failure to formulate the elusive HIV vaccine was due to its high multiplicity, which was different from COVID-19 that is a respiratory disease.

“There have been many trials to develop vaccines around HIV, not only HIV, but around a lot of other viral diseases, and HIV is not an adrenal virus the way Corona is. Corona, flu viruses, are mostly the same, these are respiratory viruses, while HIV is not respiratory so the two are again different. In fact, what has made it very difficult, I worked for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in Botswana, and I also worked for Harvard. We had clinical trials on vaccines on HIV; the rate of multiplicity of the HIV virus is just so high like it changes. So, most of the vaccine failures in HIV have been because you can almost have a success then it multiplies very quickly. And again, two, we must face the truth: the truth of the matter is that probably the rich countries have not committed as much money towards developing the HIV vaccines as they have towards the COVID-19 vaccines because it depends on the degree to which you are affected…In terms of the Coronavirus, the Europeans, the Western countries were more devastated by Coronavirus than the African countries,” explained Dr Chanda.

“So, the two viruses, firstly, are different. Then, number two, although HIV has been a global epidemic, probably not a pandemic in the sense of the Coronavirus, we know that the most hit countries in terms of the HIV pandemic by and large has been Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, not so much of the northern part of Africa. So, we know that this HIV has been so much down there. And we are very thankful that the ARVs, I remember when ARVs where just being brought in, I was a medical student at Ridgeway Campus, around 1998 when it was said that ARVs will be brought, the myths that they used to come up with, the conspiracies, but today, the ART programme is widely accepted, we have millions actually on ART and it has saved millions of lives and we are very grateful to our partners like the US government thought the PEPFAR programme.”