In June 2020, the late president John Magufuli declared Tanzania "Covid-19 free." He, along with other top government officials, even queried the efficacy of masks.
He doubted if testing worked, and teased neighbouring countries that had imposed health measures to slow down the spread of the virus.
Amid widespread criticism, president Magufuli termed the Covid-19 vaccine “dangerous,” questioned the efficacy of conventional medicines, and repeatedly urged citizens to use alternative remedies.
"If the white man was able to come up with vaccines, he should have found a vaccination for HIV/Aids, cancer and TB by now," he said.
At one time, Tanzania and Kenya closed their common border after President Uhuru Kenyatta announced movement restrictions, including closure of border entry points with Uganda, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
But, after Dr Magufuli died in March, his successor President Samia Suluhu, who was his vice president, steered the nation into recognising the presence of the deadly virus and instituted measures to curb its spread, including resuming publishing infection figures, which stopped a year ago.
Then on July 28, President Samia was publicly vaccinated against the virus, just days after Tanzania received Covid vaccines.
Tanzania and Burundi were the only East African Community partner states that were yet to receive any vaccines. On July 24, the US government donated 1,058,400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson to Tanzania through the Covax initiative.
On Wednesday, while inviting President Samia to address the nation before receiving her jab, Dr Gwajima said a section of the public and social media commentators had distorted information. “I recall president Magufuli while in Chato, on January 27, 2021, said; ‘the Ministry of Health should not rush for vaccines without them being certified by their own experts,” she said, adding, “But now experts of information distortion have since emerged and are misleading us.”
She went on to implore that, “Tanzanians and journalists, this matter is not good. We should respect statements made by our leaders. We should report as it is to allow the people to make their own judgement.”
But it isn’t so long ago that government officials were promoting steam therapy and thousands of people flocked shops selling steaming equipment, even as health experts warned that there was no evidence such an approach worked against the spread of coronavirus.
It was also the same Dr Gwajima who on February 2, in Dodoma said the country “has no plans in place to accept Covid-19 vaccines.”
Nevertheless, the tough journey to convince millions of Tanzanians that the vaccine is the way to go has just begun.
President Samia reassured the public about the efficacy and safety of the Covid vaccine and others in general.
“As a mother, wife and president, I have come out to show the way for the citizens who rely and depend on me knowing very well as a president, I am like a shepherd,” she said."I wouldn't risk my life by making a decision to get vaccinated if I didn’t value your wellbeing. I want to set a good example to the public.”