By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Tanzania has placed a “massive” order with the African Union for COVID-19 vaccines, marking a turnaround for the country’s government, which previously made no effort to secure doses and whose recently deceased former president repeatedly belittled the science behind the coronavirus.
The AU has secured 400 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose COVID-19 vaccine for purchase by African nations which it will start shipping to countries next week. Tanzania is one of the biggest purchasers of those vaccines, said Strive Masiyiwa, special envoy to the AU, during a press conference Thursday though he didn’t name the exact number of doses the country had ordered.
“We have now seen a significant shift in Tanzania’s position,” said Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tanzania is one of three countries on the African continent that has not yet started a national COVID-19 vaccination campaign, according to Nkengasong, along with Eritrea, and Burundi.
Under former President John Magufuli, the government spread misinformation and refused to release data on case count — which still officially stands at only 509 cases, last reported in May 2020. In early February, Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima announced the country had no plans to accept COVID-19 vaccines, despite the country’s eligibility to receive them for free.
Since Magafuli’s death in March, President Samia Suluhu Hassan has changed Tanzania’s pandemic management, joining COVAX, in order to receive free doses. The country also expects to receive 360,000 doses of the J&J vaccine donated by the United States this month.
While there has not yet been broad federal distribution, vaccines have found their way into the country through other means. For example, the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar secured 10,000 doses of Sputnik V, as well as Sinovac vaccines.