Zimbabwe on Thursday started rolling out its Covid-19 vaccination programme after receiving a donation of 200,000 doses of China's Sinopharm vaccine.
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the Health and Child Care minister, was the first to take the jab in the capital Harare.
The government said the first phase of inoculations will target high risk populations with health workers set to be vaccinated in the coming days.
At least 100,000 people, including members of the security forces and border control officers, will be vaccinated during the first phase.
Zimbabwe expects to take delivery of another 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine by the first week of March for the second phase.
Retired General Chiwenga told Parliament on Wednesday that the government wanted to vaccinate 10 million people or 60 percent of the population to achieve herd immunity by end of the year.
However, Zimbabwe’s decision to go for the Sinopharm vaccine, which is in the third phase of trials, has been received with a lot of scepticism.
A group of human rights lawyers this week wrote to the Health ministry demanding that the Sinopharm vaccine should be first subjected to clinical trials before administering it on locals.
“We are worried that the bodily or psychological integrity, which includes the right not to be subjected to medical or scientific engagements, is being violated,” the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) wrote.
The lawyers were reacting to a statement by a senior Health ministry official, who said authorities were looking forward to using the Sinopharm vaccine rollout to measure its effectiveness against Covid-19 variants.
The ZLHR said it wants an assurance that clinical trials of the Sinopharm vaccine and any future Covid-19 vaccines will be conducted first before being given to Zimbabweans to establish “the safety and efficacy of the vaccines”. They said the results of such clinical trials should be made public.
The group threatened to go to court in a bid to stop the vaccinations if its demands were not addressed by Friday.
Alex Gasasira, the World Health Organization country representative, praised the vaccine rollout.
“We are very encouraged that Zimbabwe has started a rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine programme,” Dr Gasasira said.
“We are aware vaccines can be a game changer in this response.”
He added that people should continue practising Covid-19 preventative measures even after they are vaccinated.
Zimbabwe said the Covid-19 variant discovered in South African, which is more transmissible, has become the most dominant in the country, accounting for 60 percent of the new cases.
The southern African country recorded a huge spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths after reopening its borders last December.
It was forced to re-introduce a tough lockdown in January and close all its land borders to slow down the spread of the virus.
As of February 17, the country had recorded a total of 35,423 cases with 1,418 deaths and 31,614 recoveries.