SPECIAL Advisor to the President for COVID-19 Dr Roma Chilengi says all mass gathering points like markets and bus stations will have vaccination centres.

And Special Assistant for Press and Public Relations Anthony Bwalya says President Hakainde Hichilema does not want to see another shutdown of economic activities, hence the need for citizens to get vaccinated.

Speaking during a special interview organised by News Diggers and Prime TV in collaboration with International Media Support and the European Union, Dr Chilengi said government was taking vaccines to the people.

“The President has been basically the number one champion to basically negotiate at the global scene for vaccines, for resources to support the programme of vaccination. We are not ending there, what we are saying is that vaccination should be made easier for the public because these are healthy people, they are busy with their lives so don’t have a number of people going to get vaccinated and stay three hours on the queue. So, we are actually taking vaccines to where the people are,” he said.

“You may have realised now that where there are mass gatherings now, there will be a vaccination station. We are going to have vaccines coming to the bus stops, coming to the churches, in the chiefdoms we are going to have chiefs leading the campaign provided with the health team who come with the vaccine. So, we will see in the re-strategy a lot of activities like that in the coming few weeks. I think it has already started to pay off.”

Asked whether the country would reach its intended target of 70 percent vaccination of eligible persons by December, Dr Chilegi said the 70 percent target was a long term plan.

“That target is not a come December target, that is a target which you need to say our population is vaccinated. The President is well advised on the epidemiology of infectious diseases like COVID-19. What turns to happen for such infectious diseases is when you have a population at risk, for the virus which is highly transmissible from person to person to be kind of stopped from jumping from one person at population level, we need a good portion of that population vaccinated,” Dr Chilengi said.

“Therefore, the virus is not at liberty to jump and spread as fast. So, 70 percent is the target you need at population level to say what we call head immunity. The desirable thing is to exceed that 70 percent, that is a desirable thing, then we can go back to our normal lives and then we can take away the masks . So ultimately, we do want to exceed 70 percent of people vaccinated but as to when we hit that number, I think it is something that we will be able to commit to in the next few weeks.”

Asked how prepared the country was for a possible fourth wave, Dr Chilengi said with regards to vaccination, the country still had a long way to go.

“That is a difficult question but part of my job is to make sure that we are as prepared as possible. I think that we could be in a better place than we are. Preparedness sometimes can be very subjective of how one interprets it. I think the closest objective measure one would have is perhaps something measurable like the numbers of vaccinated people. So we still have a way to go. As you know, we are over six percent of the targeted population vaccinated at the moment. So we still have a long way to go to get to a point where we feel comfortable. We cannot relax!” said Dr Chilengi.

“Preparedness for us now means to make sure we have sufficient protective gear for the front liners so that the moment we hear that, we begin putting the defences everywhere and make sure that when we identify a case, we are able to quickly pick up their contacts and close them in, contact tracing so that we limit the level it could spread. Preparedness for us also means having sufficient facilities to generate enough oxygen should the fourth wave hit us and we start to fill our facilities. Part of the reason we are insisting on vaccination is that prevention is better than treatment, it is better than cure. For now, it is the most effective way, of course your masking, your social distance, they will help. When you get an infection, you are likely to get a mild disease, it is him who doesn’t get vaccinated who will likely find themselves on oxygen.”

And Bwalya said there wouldn’t be a reconstruction of the economy if COVID-19 was not dealt with.

“We are going to commit ourselves like never before in fighting the pandemic in a manner unprecedented and never seen from the previous administration. The kind of damage which COVID-19 had rained on this country and its people and the economy to say the least, it was massive and now it is time for this President to walk the talk and put his money where his mouth is. He has been very clear that we have to deal with COVID-19 as part of our reconstruction agenda of this economy,” he said.

“There will be no reconstruction of this economy, if we do not deal with COVID-19. We all remember at the heart of the second and third waves restaurants were closed, bars were closed, jobs were lost. We cannot afford another shutdown as we push to rebuild this economy. This is now that we have a window of opportunity when the numbers have rescinded as much as they have now, this is the right time to get as many of our people to go out and get vaccinated.”

He said it was gratifying that President Hichilema was leading by example in the fight against COVID-19 by getting vaccinated.

“We are delighted that the President and the entire leadership is leading from the front. The President came out and said he is vaccinated, his family is vaccinated, it is now the time for you and all the 10 million people to walk side by side with the President and get vaccinated as we begin the long and difficult process of rebuilding this economy,” said Bwalya.

“We have an incentive across multiple levels as individuals, communities as congregations, as institutions to motivate one another to go out and get vaccinated because when the disruption does come, it hits all of us quite hard. This is the kind of disruption which the President of this administration is saying ‘we cannot afford to deal with or have to go through ever again’, the only sure way that we can leverage now, is to build sufficient buffers so that should a fourth wave hit, we are going to have enough of a buffer. We cannot afford another shutdown, that is something that this President and the administration is absolutely determined to avoid at all costs.”