Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan received her COVID-19 vaccine in public on Wednesday, in the most decisive signal yet of a break from the policies of her late predecessor who repeatedly dismissed the threat of the pandemic.
Hassan took office after the death in March of former President John Magufuli, who had warned citizens against COVID-19 vaccines and recommended at-home remedies such as steam inhalation.
Since then, the government has changed tack: officials now call for social distancing and emphasise mask wearing in public.
In June, Tanzania also joined the global COVAX scheme for sharing vaccines with poorer nations, culminating in the delivery of its first batch of 1.06 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week.
“We will make sure our country has enough vaccines for those who are willing to be vaccinated,” Hassan told a launch ceremony, before taking her jab in front of the cameras.
Tanzania placed an order for more doses from the African Union’s vaccines acquisition platform (AVATT) on Tuesday, she said, without giving details about quantities.
During the launch of the Tanzanian campaign in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima promised to roll out a comprehensive public education campaign to counter vaccine misinformation.
“The vaccines are the modern weapon to reverse this COVID and eliminate it like polio and other diseases,” the minister said.
Josephat Gwajima, an evangelical church leader and a lawmaker for the ruling CCM party, caused widespread anger last week when he disparaged vaccines.
President Hassan, who was joined by the prime minister, the chief justice and other leaders in taking the jab, sought to reassure people about the efficacy and safety of the vaccines.
“I wouldn’t risk my life… I want to set a good example to the public,” she said.