What happens if a country of 55 million people unilaterally decides not to get vaccinated: Tanzania has already done so and that has implications around the world
On February 2, the Minister of Health of Tanzania announced that the country “He has no plans to accept COVID-19 vaccines” because it had not yet been “clinically proven that these vaccines are safe.” It was not a novelty in the strict sense: the Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, declared the country free from COVID-19 due to God’s intervention in June after weeks without publishing epidemiological data.
At the same press conference on the 2nd, the minister and officials drank a ginger, lemon and garlic-based tonic that, they indicated, was a natural way to end the virus. That the anti-vaccines are still there, we knew; that they were going to muddy the public debate around the coronavirus, we have seen it; but that an entire country, with its 55 million inhabitants, was going to decide not to use vaccines, it was not among our plans.
And after seeing the ease of the virus to cross borders or suffer firsthand how the probability of new strains increases as the virus circulates freely, the decision of Tanzania puts many doubts on the table. What impact can this have on the rest of the world? Will it become a huge repository of the virus that will extend the return to normality globally? Can we get it back at some point?
A problem that goes beyond Tanzania
Though most of Africa has a big problem with epidemiological data, the situation in Tanzania is clamorous. Since April 2020, the authorities have not published anything about COVID and, as I say, since summer the government’s position is that the virus does not exist (or is residual) in the country. In fact, as the WHO Regional Office for Africa explained in The LancetThey are not even aware that any kind of preventive measures or restrictions have been implemented to protect the population.
And, of course, this is not only a problem within the borders of Tanzania, it is also a problem abroad. “Failure to cooperate will make it dangerous for everyone” and compromise the continent’s development goals, He said John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. In the end, beyond the support that the strategy of the African country supposes for the anti-vaccine movementIn a globalized world, the existence of countries that deliberately decide not to control the virus pose an extra problem.
What are the repercussions of all this?
Tanzania is not the only country “COVID-free”: North Korea and Turkmenistan also enjoy that (dubious and self-proclaimed) status. However, Tanzania is the most dangerous. Above all because no one knows for sure how the pandemic situation is in most of the continent. Even if we can put epidemiological barriers (with mandatory quarantines for travelers, border controls, etc …), the circulation of the virus in itself favors the formation of variants.
In other words, although Tanzania does not directly engage the rest of the world and where it generates the most problems is at the local level (making the efforts of the countries in the region more difficult), the truth is that not good news for anyone. It is not a mere anecdote. For now, the virus has not found many ways to improve its transmissibilityBut we are not in a position to trust that this will continue to be the case.
However, and this is where the real problem lies, we don’t seem to have a way to fix it. Tanzania is a sovereign country and, regardless of the sanctions that may be imposed at the international level (and the blockade it is subjected to), it has all the legitimacy in the world to apply its own policies. As extravagant as they are. So, deep down, it’s a permanent reminder that we must strengthen (and greatly) epidemiological surveillance. Something that, as we already know, we are not doing well.
The target of group immunity every day is closer, yes; but, paradoxically, every day seems more complicated.
Image | Hugo Ramos