- LUSAKA (Thursday 23rd December 2021)

Members of the Press,

Let me begin by conveying to the nation my warmest seasonal greetings and best wishes during this festive season. 

Today, our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has become even more fierce, with rapidly spreading community infection and high positivity rates, but may this season bring renewed hope of winning this fight and the prospect of a better tomorrow.

I wish to inform the nation that the Council of Ministers on Disaster Management, chaired by Her Honour the Vice President, held a meeting on Tuesday 21st December 2021. The Council deliberated on, among other issues, the evolving COVID-19 situation in the country and our multisectoral response which calls for us to continue to put in place necessary measures to curb further spread of the infection. 

With regard to the COVID-19 vaccination program the Council considered two issues:

The introduction of booster vaccinations for COVID-19 for people who received the primary vaccination

The introduction of COVID-19 vaccination in children from the age of 12 years upwards

I will now spend a few moments to elaborate further on these two issues to provide the policy guidance.

Booster vaccinations

Allow me to begin by explaining what is meant by COVID-19 booster vaccines in order to provide some clarity to those who may not fully understand what this is about. Simply put, when an individual has received full COVID-19 vaccination (whether one dose or two doses depending on the type of vaccine) and with time it is ascertained that the protection offered by the vaccine has reduced below a certain level, a decision may be made to administer another dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in order to enhance or restore the immunity to a sufficient level. This extra dose is what is referred to as a booster dose, and may either be the same type of vaccine that was initially administered or a different one, but from within the approved basket of vaccines. 

Following consideration of the recommendations by the Zambia Immunisation Technical Advisory Group, the Council of Ministers arrived at the following resolutions:

Zambia will begin to administer the booster vaccinations for COVID-19 commencing on 27th December, 2021

The COVID-19 booster doses shall be administered to the following adult groups above the age of 18 years in order of priority:

Tier 1: Health Care Workers including Nurses; Doctors; Paramedic Staff; Ward Support Staff; Laboratory personnel, and other frontline health workers;

Tier 2: The Elderly and those with underlying illnesses which make someone be at higher risk of getting severe COVID-19 disease such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer and others 

Tier 3: All those who are fully vaccinated and are due and willing to receive the booster. The booster vaccines will be administered at the following time intervals:

6 months after full vaccination for those who received Astra Zeneca, Sinopharm, Pfizer and Moderna

2 months after vaccination for those who received Johnson and Johnson

The primary vaccination will continue to be prioritised above booster vaccinations in order to improve coverage. The current national vaccination coverage is still less than 15%, and our main objective in the COVID-19 vaccination programme remains reaching 2 million doses of vaccines administered by the end of the year and 70% coverage by June 2022

Vaccinations in children from 12 years upwards

The increasing trend of infections, severe disease and even deaths among children below the age of 18 years has been noted in our country and world over. Following review of trends and practices in our region and across the globe, and also taking into consideration expert advice, the Council of Ministers resolved that Zambia will begin to administer the Pfizer vaccine which has been shown to be safe and effective in children from 12 years upwards

In light of the foregoing policy pronouncements, I wish to make the following observations:

Government is aware that the above policy direction entails that there will be need to mobilise more vaccine doses into the country. I wish, on behalf of Government, to assure the nation that Government has already embarked on several initiatives to mobilise additional vaccine stocks and logistics required for their deployment to our people.

The introduction of the vaccination of children from 12 years old will ensure that our children are also protected from COVID-19. We are confident that despite the Ministry of Health, working with its various partners, will continue roll out the programme as efficiently and effectively as possible.

As the country is now in an established fourth wave of COVID-19, and more cases of the Omicron variant continue to be detected, let us all act responsibly and observe the Five Golden Rules and let us all get vaccinated. 

The five golden rules are:

1.Washing hands or sanitizing

2.Wearing of face masks correctly and consistently

3.Maintaining social distance of at least one meter

4.Avoiding crowded places

5.Seeking medical attention if one feels unwell

Together we can prevent and control COVID-19.

God bless you all.

Hon. Sylvia T. Masebo, MP

Minister of Health