Dr Alfred Driwale, the Program Manager for immunization says while no one likes to be scammed, the 800 people allegedly vaccinated with fake vaccines bear the blame.
Obviously bothered by the scam but unsympathetic to the victims of the fake vaccine, Driwale, also an Assistant Commissioner at the Health Ministry says whoever took the vaccines out the designated points bears the responsibility of finding out about its efficacy.
His outburst follows reports that over 800 unsuspecting persons mainly in Kampala may have been vaccinated by counterfeit or fake vaccines for a fee. The scammers allegedly targeted Banks like United Bank of Africa, Diamond Trust Bank, road works employees and those from some of the leading industries.
“You thought your money can do everything. Now you are in it. Is it water? Is it urine? Is it a stolen vaccine? It is you and the thief who knows. So you answer that question,” said Driwale.
“And if you got this kind of vaccine in un-gazzeted places, we would encourage you to work with the police to give more information. Because this practice is unacceptable .it is hurts public health and it should stop,” he added.
Driwale was one of the panelists at a joint media briefing by Twaweza Uganda and the Ministry of Health on Saturday. The briefing was about the emerging wave misinformation about the anti-coronavirus vaccination exercise.
Driwale said the anti-COVID-19 or coronavirus vaccines being administered by the government in partnership with the World Health Organization are free of charge. He decried a growing cancer in the country where individuals or organizations tend to circumvent the government processes and procedures in order to receive goods and services.
While Driwale says the victims of the scam are individually responsible for colluding with wrongdoers, there is fear at the Health Ministry and WHO that fake COVID-19 vaccines could erode public trust in much-needed jabs and encourage vaccine hesitancy.
The reported vaccine scam comes at the time when more Kampala residents were rushing for vaccination in a bid to protect themselves against the Coronavirus to avoid COVID-19 ailments and deaths. A survey by Twaweza Uganda’s Sauti Za Wanainchi this week for that 7 out of 10 Kampala residents say they are willing to have the vaccination against Covid-19.
Most Kampala residents (68 per cent) say they are willing to take the vaccine against Covid-19. The survey said Kampala residents trust the government to handle vaccine acquisition and distribution.
According to the survey, the three main institutions trusted by Kampala residents to acquire and distribute the Covid-19 vaccine are all government institutions: The Ministry of Health (36 per cent), public health facilities (20 per cent) and local governments (18 per cent).
This is followed by the church (9 per cent) and private health facilities (6 per cent). Globally, only governments and multilateral agencies like WHO are supposed closely monitor the movement of the COVID-19 vaccines so that there is little room for bad actors to exploit. According to Interpol reports, more than 80 people have so far been arrested in China and South Africa with over 5,000 fake COVID-19 vaccine doses Fake vaccines pose a danger to people’s health.
They may even contain harmful ingredients which can directly cause illness or death. Even if they are not contaminated, fake COVID-19 vaccines may give people a false sense of security whereby they assume they are protected when in fact they remain at heightened risk of getting and spreading the virus seized.
Driwale said that falsification or faking of COVID vaccines is unlikely to happen as long as they have been channelled to the established supply chain mechanisms.
Mid in June, a laboratory Assistant from a private Clinic in the suburbs of Kampala was allegedly found in possession of stolen AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. Over 600 doses of the vaccines had been stolen from government facilities to private ones.
Driwale confirmed that unlike the fake “vaccines” impounded by the State House Health Monitoring Unit, some genuine vaccines were also impounded by the police having been stolen from districts out of Kampala. The recipients, according to Driwale were still at risk in case the vaccines got spoilt while as they got smuggled out of government facilities.
“Those were good true vaccines which were meant for you. But some health workers who changed their title to thief removed them. You know when you are a health worker and you steal, you are no longer a health worker. You are now a thief,” he said . Only 130,000 Ugandan have been fully vaccinated and 800,000 partially vaccinated.
Fighting Dis/Misinformation in vaccination
Unsuspecting persons are allegedly being lured into COVID tests by unknown persons claiming that it is a requirement for one to be vaccinated with the Astrazenca vaccine. But Driwale says testing is not a requirement for one to be vaccinated.
“If you want to make a decision in your family to go and test before you vaccinate, that is your family decision. And if you test and vaccinate, there is nothing that will happen to you.
You made the decision yourself that you must test first before you get a vaccination. You know the reason better than me. So that is your private affairs. Don’t make your private affair a public affair,” he said.
“Because we know that the vaccine does not cause disease. We also that testing is more expensive than the vaccine. Therefore, there is no advantage of testing before vaccination.
There are people who are using their private privileges to make announcements on behalf of the government. I think they are taking it too far. Our position is that test to vaccinate is not required. This is what we do for measles, this is what we don for polio, this is what we do indeed for our routine vaccination program.”
There is a question whether one who has tested positive for coronavirus should be vaccinated? “If you are negative and you vaccinate, that is the right thing to do. If you are positive and you proceed to vaccinate, I think that is not correct because first of all the side effects of the vaccine will overlap with the symptoms of the disease. And it will bring confusion. If the unfortunate happens, then you are having a preexisting infection. If you progress to severe disease and you die, the blame will go on the vaccine,” he said
“This is not a therapeutic vaccine. This is not a vaccine for treating sick people. It is a vaccine for preventing severe forms of the disease. So it is a prevention intervention. So when you are already sick, you wait for the natural process to proceed first. In any case, you also acquire some immunity through infection. If you don’t vaccinate, God will vaccinate you through infection. That is the big needle. The big needle will come if you fear the small need. So it is not necessary for you to go and test as precondition,” he added.