FORMER health minister Dr Brain Chituwo has advised government to undertake a pilot study of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca before rolling out the project in Zambia.

On March 25, 2021, Health Minister Dr Jonas Chanda announced that government had settled for the AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.

Commenting on this in an interview, Dr Chituwo said going ahead with the project without conducting a study might not benefit the country.

“Since this is really a new phenomenon, I would suggest that we undertake a pilot study. What is happening now is that the whole world is in an experimental mood. There are many things that we don’t know, that the scientists don’t know. So, why don’t we take a control study ourselves to see how effective this AstraZeneca is? From our own results, we can decide whether we wholesomely vaccinate our people. This copy and paste might not benefit us. The decision makers must again take into account all these. In my view, I am urging them to look at science, what is science informing us?” Dr Chituwo asked.

“First of all, we really have not been affected as much by this COVID when one compares the numbers to Brazil, Mexico, Spain and Europe. Going by the statistics the Ministry of Health is giving, we are getting less and less incidents of COVID. Thirdly, even those people have been found positive, close to 90 per cent do recover. There are still some questions regarding vaccinations, do vaccinations prevent one getting the virus? I think we have been told it does not. Does it prevent somebody transmitting that virus? The answer is no. The only window we have learnt is that, perhaps the severity of the disease will be less for someone who has been vaccinated.”

Dr Chituwo also urged government to consider using the funds meant for the vaccination project to ensure hospitals and clinics were empowered with the correct medicines and equipment.

“Now, taking all those issues, what is afflicting our people health wise? It is the lack of medicines and other facilities in the hospitals and health centres. The result of that is that many of our people are suffering. So, we can only presume that because of the lack of these things, the consequences are that our people are dying more from lack of medicines. So, probably that money could have been used to prepare our health facilities to not only deal with COVID, but prepare wholesomely to deal with any diseases that comes. The systems must be strengthened, we must have the medical supplies and embark on the outreach programs so that the money could have a much more lasting benefit than focusing only on vaccinations. So, it is something that our Ministry must reconsider which would benefit a wider spectrum of disease entities rather than just COVID,” said Dr Chituwo.