U.S. urges vaccine-sceptical Tanzania to review evidence on the COVID-19 shots

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The Unites States urged vaccine-sceptical Tanzania on Friday to review evidence on the drugs, saying they work and are one of the tools to fight off the COVID-19 pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Workers prepare face shields from recycled plastics at the Zaidi Recyclers workshop as a measure to stop the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania May 27, 2020. Picture taken May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania Don Wright said he was encouraged that authorities had recently acknowledged COVID-19 as a public health priority and had called on Tanzanians to take basic precautions to fend off the virus.

In a statement he urged the government to start sharing data about testing and cases “in order to know if response measures are having the intended impact”, and said the government should employ vaccines as an anti-coronavirus tool.

“There is no doubt that a mass immunization campaign will save lives,” he said. “I urge the Government of Tanzania to convene its health experts and review the evidence on vaccines.”

President John Magufuli has been one of the world leaders most sceptical of efforts to combat the pandemic. He has also cast doubt about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, saying last month that they “are not good. If they were, then the white man would have brought vaccines for HIV/AIDS”.

His government has said it has no plans to import vaccines.

Last week, the death of a senior politician who had tested positive for COVID-19 added to the concern about a hidden epidemic running rampant in the East African country.

On Sunday, World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged Tanzania to bolster public health measures, prepare to distribute vaccines and start reporting coronavirus cases and sharing data.

The government stopped reporting coronavirus statistics last May, at a time when it had registered 509 cases and 21 deaths.

On Feb. 10, the U.S embassy said Tanzania was experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and that its healthcare facilities could be quickly overwhelmed.

On Wednesday, the health minister implored citizens to take precautions against COVID-19, including wearing facemasks, avoiding unnecessary public gatherings and washing hands.

Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry