Zimbabwe's government has said it would force unvaccinated civil servants and teachers to resign in a bid to ramp up the uptake of COVID-19 jabs, reports Reuters.
The country has already made the vaccine mandatory for trading in markets, working out at gyms, frequenting restaurants and sitting university exams. Some private employers have followed suit.
Those measures have sparked outrage and overwhelmed thinly supplied inoculation centres, where it is not uncommon to find people queueing as early as 4am to secure a jab.
Reeling from the economic impact of COVID, companies have been pushing employees to get the vaccine, seeing it as Zimbabwe’s only chance of recovery after successive lockdowns that have crippled an already weak economy. The Guardian reports that some employers have been booking workers en masse for vaccination, while others insist on COVID tests every fortnight.
Now, there are demands for vaccination certificates before employees can enter a workplace. Unions fear that thousands may lose their jobs if the government does not intervene.
“If you are a government employee, for the protection of others and the people you are serving, get vaccinated,” Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said on local radio. “But if you want to enjoy your rights… you can resign,” he added, noting that the same would apply to teachers.
However, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), an amalgamation of 35 labour unions representing 189,000 people, has accused employers of infringing workers’ rights, saying there is no law providing for compulsory vaccinations. According to The Guardian, it has taken the government and six companies to the High Court for ordering employees to have the vaccine, arguing that the companies are “taking the law into their own hands” by forcing the issue.
In the court application, addressed to the six companies, the ZCTU calls for an end to compulsory jabs, saying: “Each person having fully considered the implications and effects of vaccination is expected to make a personal decision.” Zimbabwe counts around 300,000 civil servants including some 100,000 teachers.
Slightly more than 2.7 million of Zimbabwe's 15 million inhabitants have so far received a first vaccine dose. The country has recorded more than 125,600 infections and 4,490 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.
According to the claim, employers that threatened to sack staff unless they are vaccinated include the state-owned Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) and telecoms group TelOne, insurer Zimnat, fertiliser producer Windmill, agricultural group Seed Co and the Manicaland State University of Applied Sciences.
In June, vice-president and health minister Constantino Chiwenga said that vaccination could be made mandatory for anyone entering public spaces. The target was to have 10 million people fully vaccinated by December.
Zimbabwe has bought 13 million of the 20 million doses of vaccines required to meet this target, mainly from China, in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. A devastating third wave accounted for 50% of Zimbabwe’s total COVID deaths, leaving mortuaries full and funeral companies overwhelmed.
Last week, the government extended vaccination to teenagers over the age of 14. “On the advice of scientists, Zimbabwe will start administering vaccines to children aged between 14 and 17,” the information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said.
See more from MedicalBrief archives: