The government has started taking drastic measures in response to the Covid-19 vaccination hesitancy among its employees after announcing a range of sanctions against those that are yet to take the vaccines.
Zimbabwe has been experiencing a more aggressive third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic characterised by high infection rates and deaths.
Health institutions are being overwhelmed by new admissions due to the rise in Covid-19 cases and government resources are now stretched.
The authorities last week revealed that nearly 90% of those that end up in need of hospitalisations were unvaccinated. Unvaccinated people also account for the highest number of people that are succumbing to the disease.
The trajectory of the pandemic in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world, therefore, makes it absolutely necessary for a significant portion of the population to be vaccinated.
There are no two ways about this.
However, having said that, it is important for the government to develop a strategy to fight the vaccine hesitancy, which will not have unintended consequences.
The authorities now say unvaccinated civil servants will no longer be allowed to board subsidised Public Service Commission buses when going to work.
The vaccinated will be prioritised when the government comes up with shifts for its workers as part of its office decongestion plans. Unvaccinated civil servants that contract Covid-19 will no longer receive the special allowance introduced by the government last year.
Faced with such sanctions that have a potential to hit their pockets hard, the affected civil servants are likely to resort to any means to ensure that they evade them and this is where corruption starts.
There are already reports that there are some people that produce fake vaccination certificates for sale to those that are trying to avoid the Covid-19 vaccines for religious reasons and due to lack of information.
If the practice becomes widespread as more people are forced to acquire the vaccine certificates, it will put an otherwise good vaccination programme in serious jeopardy.
Instead of rushing to introduce punitive measures, the government must be exploring persuasive ways of encouraging Zimbabweans to embrace the Covid-19 vaccines to save lives and reduce pressure on the health delivery system.
Proper messaging and reducing congestion at vaccination centres remain the best ways to encourage Zimbabweans to take up the vaccines.
Using coercive measures such as denying people transport and refusing to pay them allowances or fear-mongering will only breed resentment and resistance.
The government needs to urgently evaluate its messaging and ensure that Covid-19 vaccination becomes attractive to the majority of Zimbabwean citizens.